In the wake of Stephen Harper's comments, I spent the day around the internet. What I saw there convinced me that the way to move forward isn't talking about how arts feeds our souls and defines us, or about how we're being led down the road to right-wing social policies. I'm more than completely convinced (especially after the actors' news conference) that we need to make the economic argument, based on one word I saw over and over.
The general response to the press conference was that they exuded a sense of entitlement. It played right into the elitist positioning the government was attempting. The cuts are being positioned as ineffective, wasteful programs that benefited people who didn't deserve to be supported.
The government is playing the economic card and the only way right now to even be heard is to play the card right back. Which means talking about art as investment - anything else is preaching to the choir. If we're going to change the situation, we need to recognize what the concerns are out there right now, and it's that people are seriously concerned about the economy and are afraid of losing their jobs. We'll only be heard if we emphasize with people and address their concerns.
It took me a while to come up with an all-encompassing argument, but I'm pretty happy with what I've come up with below. Feel free to steal it if you like it.
The problem is that the government has obscured what the eliminated programs actually did. The cuts were to eliminate programs that provided industry support - training programs for cultural workers, research and development programs, seed money and venture capital programs. All supports to promote work internationally have been eliminated.
Most artists are small businesses. Small business don't have the resources to leverage expansion on their own when they're first expanding their markets. That's why there are government assistance programs. Bank loans are impossible to come by because banks won't fund artistic ventures because the way it is sold doesn't fit into their cost/benefit analysis. There are no venture capital funds for arts, unless you're writing a Broadway music or making a Disney film. So we look to the government to provide assistance, as do other industries.
Again, it's the specific programs that were eliminated that were the problem. We understand it's a tight economy, but we also understand that right now is a growth period for our industry internationally as there is a much higher demand for entertainment product. These cuts will stop the forward growth we've been experiencing. Remember, Canada is a small market. To develop alternative funding sources, we need to expand. And there was no discussion with the industry about how we were going to move forward before the programs were canceled.
But instead of actually talking about what these programs did, the government chose a few grants to people they didn't like and used it to paint the programs as wasteful and unnecessary and to rile up their base of supporters against supposed "elitist art". And now Mr. Harper drops a comment that implies that artists are rich off government funding, completely ignoring the convenient fact that the majority of artists live at or below the poverty line and the successful ones live a middle-class lifestyle, with only the rare, odd exception.
There's also a misconception out there that the government funds the projects 100% and that it's easy money. No proposal to any government program that looks for more than 40% funding gets accepted. And there's a whole competitive process to go through with no guarantee of seeing money at the end. I've blogged about the process if you're curious.
And btw, the C-10 fallout has made it much more difficult for films to find investors because there is no trust that the government will honour their commitment. You see, the dirty secret of arts funding is that private investors will not commit until they see the government has. This is how they secure their investment.
The point is, artists are average Canadians too. We work hard to create something of value for society. We're just asking for our industry to be treated like the important economic engine it is.