Thursday, August 19, 2010

I haven't forgotten about arts funding

Hey there. It's been a long time. I've been producing a successful fringe show, recovering from a bad fall (a sprained elbow makes it hard to type), and contemplating how I'm going to end my long commute. Rest has been very, very, good.

I have been keeping up on Twitter and in an article about the resignation of the chair of the British Columbia Arts Council (BCAC), I found this great comment that I want to have for future reference. The writer uses the handle DavidJN:
I'm a businessman and I've done volunteer work for performing arts organizations for about twenty years. During that time I've come to have a fairly rich understanding about how the business of art works in this country and I can attest that many of the derogatory comments seen here are based on ignorance, either that or sheer stupidity.

Entitlement is not the operative word in public arts funding. The key word is competition. There is a fairly limited amount of funding available and artists vie for a share just like in the "real world". Further, most public arts funding decisions are adjudicated in a professional fashion by qualified people, contrast that with politics. Finally, I've witnessed the impressive multiplier effect of arts spending. Give an artist a grant and the first thing they do is hire other artists and artisans. Arts funding circulates quickly, effectively and locally. Contrast that with the huge delays we see in infrastructure spending.

The arts are a great public investment with fast, local returns and it is a genuine pity so many people cannot get their blinkered heads around it.

I also really liked this commentary from screenscribe:
I'd like to respond to "toxicboy" who wrote, "Why is that the arts expect any money? The government should be responsible for (in canada) for health, education, agriculture, regulation and the military/policing. All of these deal with security. The arts, not so much." This is such a common sentiment, and it is wrong on these points:

1. When we say "arts" we are really referring to a wide-ranging set of disciplines, including musicians, painters, dancers, poets, playwrights, writers, filmmakers, sculptors, large and small orchestras and ballet companies and theatre companies and museums, interdisciplinary artists...the list goes on. It's huge, in other words. And the reason I list it is so we're talking the same thing.

2. Arts in education is proven to increase student's comprehension of everything from math to science to the humanities.

3. Canada--the concept of the country, our idea of who we are--is not only our much-envied health system, not only our skilled, brave armed forces, not only our farmers and "salt of the earth" workers in resource industries. It is also how we define ourselves to each other and to the world through our arts. Arts funding is not a disposable adjunct to other federal and provincial and city funding: it should be seen (and is seen, in most countries) as a core component of a responsible society's governance.

4. The arts, in general, offer spin-offs, beyond their value to education noted above, which amount to more than the cost of the subsidies they receive; why this hasn't been comprehended by, for instance, the British Columbia Liberals under Gordon Campbell is beyond me (I suspect they know it all too well but are playing to the same misguided sentiment that you offer in your comment).

5. Lastly, as a new documentary filmmaker, I haven't applied for funds because I know the well is dry; my wife hasn't received a penny in Canada Council grants; our artist friends have yet to receive any funding. Most artists fund themselves.

The PR problem is still there, even with these noble voices defending it. And with Rob Ford leading in the polls for the Toronto Mayoralty, our recent gains in our fair city will be in jeopardy too. Will we ever see a time when arts investment is considered a valued tool of social policy?

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