AND NO FLOWERS BLOOMED: Harper Gov't Slashes Canadian Arts Funding Abroad. Why?
Atwood, Margaret, CCPA Monitor
During the last days of September, I was at a trilingual literary festival in Vincennes, near Paris. It's called Festival America: Littératures et Cultures d'Amérique du Nord. It was Canada's year of honour, so there were 26 Canadian writers there, as opposed to two Cubans, four Mexicans, and 24 Americans. The festival was attended by 23,000 people over three days, and generated a million mentions of Canada in the French press.
The Canadian Embassy staff in Paris did a lot of work for the festival, but the embassy didn't spend much money. It couldn't even afford to throw its own reception. Thus it was while attending the U.S. Embassy's reception for its own authors that I first heard an astonishing fact: the Canadian government had just cut every penny once budgeted for the promotion of Canadian artists abroad.
That's it-every penny, for everything cultural and Canadian, around the world. Some of those pennies have now been "unfrozen," but they're not enough to save the programs and networks that have been built up over the past 40 years. Staff remain in place, but they can't do much. It's like a dance floor with no more dancers.
Not that there were that many pennies to begin with. The amounts of money removed were minute-a fraction of a fraction of a per cent of Canada's federal budget. And the Harper government had just posted a $13 billion surplus. So why had they taken this bizarre step?
The axing of culture abroad is even stranger when you consider that the money generated by Canadianbased artists' works that sell abroad flows into this country and is taxed here, a net gain to the economy. The arts and creative industries in Europe now earn "more than double the cash produced by European car-makers and contribute more to the economy than the chemical industry, property, or the food and drink business," according to The Independent of Dec. 26. There are comparable statistics for Canada-some say $40 billion, but even if it were half that it wouldn't be a number to blow off easily. Or so you'd think.
So why did the Conservatives take the weed-whacker to Canadian arts promotion abroad? Due to the impenetrability of Fortress Harpercolder than the Kremlin, more secret than the Inquisition-it was unlikely we'd get any answers. But we are still free to speculate, so here's what I came up with to explain why they did it:
* Ignorance. The Harperites have no idea how much money the arts generate.
* Willed ignorance. They've seen the figures, but have labelled them "junk economics" in the same way they once labelled global-warming statistics as "junk science."
* Hatred. The Harper Conservatives think artists are a bunch of whiners who don't have real jobs, and that any money spent on the arts is a degenerate frill.
* Frugality. There's lots of arts around. …