CBC NEWS – The chorus of voices blasting the federal Heritage Department’s recent cuts to federal arts and culture programs grew louder on Friday, with critics calling the decision “appalling” and “disastrous” for the community.
“Culture is not an expense, it’s an investment — in human potential, the economy and in creativity,” MP Denis Coderre, the Liberal Party’s heritage critic, told a news conference in Montreal on Friday, adding that the decision is a “disastrous” step backwards for the country and “extremely worrying.”
“When you cut a program you have to rebuild it some other way. Creating new programs takes months and months,” he said, also accusing the government of denying funding to artists “because they’re radical” and of trying to define “what culture is, when we should be fostering creativity.”
Last week, government officials confirmed it would no longer fund the $4.7 million PromArt program, which subsidizes the promotion of Canadian artists touring abroad. News then emerged that funding of the $9 million Trade Routes program, which promotes the export of Canadian arts and culture products abroad, had also been cut.
The elimination of further federal cultural funding came to light late this week, including contributions of:
$300,000 to the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, for programs archiving important film, television and musical recordings.
$1.5 million to the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund.
$2.5 million to the National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector.
Two programs that provide administrative support to arts organizations — the Stabilization Projects and Capacity Building — will also be eliminated, as will two New Media Research funds, the government announced in updates on the programs’ respective web pages.
Myriad arts and cultural groups had already voiced their dismay regarding the PromArt and Trade Routes cuts, but a flood of new condemnation came on Friday.
“It’s appalling that these cuts come during the Olympics when all eyes are focused on the world stage,” Richard Hardacre, national president of performers’ union ACTRA, said in a statement on Friday.
“You can’t compete without investment in years of training and long-term support. The arts are no different.”
Noted Canadian filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson, who is also president of the Directors Guild of Canada, said his group was “gravely concerned by these recent decisions and will be seeking meetings with both [heritage and foreign affairs] ministers to encourage their reconsideration. Given the size of our market and the current state of our industry, now is the time to strengthen, not abolish, such key programs.”
The cancellations will have a “devastating effect,” Antoni Cimolino, Stratford Shakespeare Festival general director and a vice-president of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, said in an earlier statement.
“Canadians depend on our artists and their work to communicate Canadian values. Government investment is a crucial element of cultural diplomacy in every developed nation, including Canada.”
On Thursday, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe called the funding cuts “unacceptable.” He called on his Liberal and NDP colleagues to join the Bloc in calling the Heritage Department to task and demanded the Conservatives immediately explain their decision.
Efficiency, stronger impact sought: Verner
After mostly silence (save for brief statements from department spokesmen) this week, Heritage Minister Josée Verner defended the Trade Routes and PromArt decisions in an interview with the French arm of Canadian Press on Thursday.
“What’s being considered … is to examine how we can create a new program or new avenues that will be more efficient and with a stronger impact for our culture abroad,” Verner said.
Though these programs are important for artists, they did not demonstrate that the federal government’s investment in them had enough impact to make a difference, Verner said, adding that the decision to abolish these programs stems from revisions announced in the budget last spring.
Verner said she would “always fight” for the cultural sector but that reality dictates “that we seek efficiency. I think the first beneficiary of this [action] will be the cultural world.”