Monday, June 17, 2013

From State of the Arts to Petro State; a word to the Premier

Dear Ms. Clark,
Hello, just thought I'd check in and see how things are going in Victoria. Or Kelowna. Wherever you are, these days. I wrote a letter a while back thanking you and your government for the official position on the proposed Enbridge NGP. I never received a reply, so I assume you are having your staff craft a response or perhaps the correspondence was lost in the internets. I see you are using government servers, so I really don't know how secure that is. Be careful, for goodness sakes.

Now that the nasty business of that pipeline has all but gone away, we can turn our attention to other things in this province that require our scrutiny. There are a few I can think of but what I want to talk about today is the state of arts funding in this province.
Now, I know you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking I must be another lazy artist, looking for the proverbial handout, so I can lay about all day, thinking up ideas for my next modern art exhibition that nobody will understand and consequently not shill out any cash to purchase said art, leaving me even more broke and relying on more handouts, but this time in the form of welfare.

This mode of operation does exist but I think you will find it more in the corporate business community, rather than in the arts community. Corporations always rely on government handouts in the form of tax incentives or just plain old giveaways. One need look no further than banks, oil and gas, etc, to see where the lion's share of handouts is going.

In my last letter I mentioned that your government may have some accounting issues when it came to the privatisation and sell-off of certain crown properties and services.
It seems like your government may have relied on the same accountant to ascertain the importance of spending on the arts.
I mean, really, with your new cabinet shuffle, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture was reduced to  the Ministry of Things We Don't Really Care About.
And with that same cabinet shuffle, your government created the Ministry of Natural Gas.
At least we know where your priorities are. There are many things that can be said about that but we shall save that for a later date, when I write another letter about a topic I care deeply about and nobody in your government will even read it, let alone reply to it. That's okay, you know that I am a lost cause, I will never vote for your party. I will never vote for the spineless, useless NDP either, if that makes you feel any better.

So, yes, I am an artist. I am very passionate about the arts. I spend money on the arts. I go to art exhibitions, films, concerts, shows and the like, dropping money straight into the coffers of local, small business.
I also spend money mounting my own exhibitions. I cover all my own costs of renting the gallery space, serving refreshments, hiring help, advertising and whatever else I may need to put on a successful show.
In other words, I am not a lazy artist. I am the kind of artist that works hard and inserts added value into our local economy, unlike timber companies that export raw logs or oil companies that export raw bitumen. Yes, I know, there is money and jobs aplenty when it comes to plundering our supernatural province for the good of multinational companies but the cost-benefit is still up in the air, isn't it?
There are many jobs to go around in the arts as well. And they are mostly low paying, non-union jobs, which are the type of jobs your government loves, am I right?

I find it especially odd that your government seems to find such value in those industries of yesteryear, while completely ignoring industries of the future that are thriving and do not require the massive environmental and social cost. The recent refusal of any incentives toward the gaming/VFX/film/TV business highlights that point quite clearly. There was an article in the Sun yesterday that decried the $260 million in 'subsidies' that the film industry receives each year. Of course, the article doesn't mention spin-offs or jobs or infrastructure spending. I wonder if the author, an economist from Calgary, (surprise, surprise) would display the same outrage about $327 million in 'subsidies' to oil and gas in BC?

I am not comparing the economics of resources to the economics of art but I do make the distinction of the arts feeding our local and provincial economy.
There is one other thing that I would like to compare between the two 'industries' though. One of them has a pretty low environmental impact and the other destroys our environment and poisons our water.

Your own government did a study a while back and came to the conclusion that for every dollar spent on arts in this province, the return is $1.36. Yes, you read that right. That is a much higher rate of return than most investments, isn't it? Yet, BC ranks dead last in per capita arts funding. The national average spending is $26 per person, per year. BC spends $6.50 per person, per year.
I must ask you again, who is doing the accounting down there?

Your government has thrown all the eggs into the LNG basket, which is the most insane gamble I have ever seen, yet, there is an industry right before your very eyes that is a guaranteed investment with a 36% rate of return and your government not only ignores it but actively defunds it.
That can only mean one thing; your government's decision must be wholly ideologically based. With the arts being so lucrative for the economy, I can draw no other conclusion.
In your defence, you (or someone) added $7 million back into the arts chest last year, which was greatly appreciated but I can't give your government too much credit for giving back something they took in the first place, can I?

What is the philosophy behind arts cuts? Why do governments and the media perpetuate the myth that the arts are a liability and a cost to taxpayers, when the opposite is true?

As tempting as it is to draw my own cynical conclusions as to why the arts are ignored, I won't.
I just ask that your government take another look at arts funding in this province because the state of it at this time is shameful. Arts and culture is a measurement of civility and is the backbone of our society. Without the arts, we are nothing but rats in cages.

From the Best Place on Earth,
Tony Durke







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