The French version follows below. | La version française suit ci-dessous.
“War” has been declared in Canada.
The Canadian “Culture War”, as Stéphane Baillargeon (Le Devoir) named it, seems to have on one side the cultural sector, and on the other, the multi-billion dollar communication corporation Quebecor. In the last few months, the cultural sector has been the target of numerous attacks, including the well-known articles of Nathalie Elgrably-Lévy in the Journal de Montréal and Krista Erickson’s infamous “bazooka journalism” (Le Devoir, June 13th) on the SunTV News Network. Is it by chance that the majority of these assaults took place via Quebecor-owned entities? Is it coincidental that the attacks have drastically increased, both in number and hostility, since the last federal election? I do not know the answers and I have to let you draw your own conclusions. But one thing is certain: Canadian artists, cultural sector workers and arts lovers need to get ready for what could potentially be the beginning of extremely challenging times.
Unfortunately, considering the amount of damage regularly perpetuated in the media these days, we, as arts supporters, cannot afford to live silently anymore. Each and every one of us must be proactively engaged in disseminating accurate information about who we are, what we do and why we believe the arts are important. We also have to prepare ourselves adequately, so that we can respond to disregard, disbelief — or even belligerence — with an informed mind, an open heart and a strong spirit.
I have put together a series of key issues, which rest at the heart of the arts funding debate, including my own thoughts on Nathalie Elgrably-Lévy’s philosophy, a few clarifications on “freedom of expression”, and a list of suggestions regarding how to address the journalistic outrage that is the SunTV News Network. I am aware that this article is a bit “lengthy”, but please, take the time to read it and proactively distribute it (or any other relevant information). Hopefully, these “tools” will help us address the subject thoroughly and confront our opposition with intelligence, calm, receptivity and articulation.
So, the big question in the Canadian “Culture War”:
“Why should the government continue funding the arts, especially when they are not profitable?”
To this completely valid question, I propose three answers:
1. Arts funding makes economic sense.
2. Cultured societies are happier, smarter, more compassionate and healthier.
3. Culturally rich societies create immaterial wealth, which fosters human evolution.
Most of us agree that the latter two reasons are the most important. But we have to be aware that these arguments won’t convince those with their eyes on the bottom line, especially if they themselves have found no value in the arts. And since most objections to arts funding usually come from an economic perspective, we should also learn the facts in order to respond to questions regarding the economic viability of the arts, so that we can hold an informed dialogue and present a solid case for the arts in Canadian society. Hopefully, the ability to discuss this topic openly and knowledgeably will bring a few more people closer to a sympathetic understanding of the arts, or at least soften the more entrenched perspectives that seek to denigrate them.
Here are some common questions that challenge the economic and social validity of arts funding and the role that arts play in the cultural and economic fabric of our society:
1. “Why does arts funding make sense economically (we just said it isn’t profitable)?”
The main point that people need to understand is that direct profits made from a specific artistic event are relatively insignificant. Whether this event received more money from box office sales than from government grants is not the most important aspect to consider. Instead, we need to investigate the revenue generated in wider circles. For example, from the moment a small theatre company receives a grant to create and present a show, a significant number of transactions are generated:
• Artistic, technical, marketing and administrative staff members are hired (and
pay taxes on this income).
• Rehearsal and performance spaces are rented.
• Posters, flyers, ads and programs are designed, printed and distributed, often carrying logos of supportive local businesses.
• Audience members purchase tickets; utilize coat check facilities; buy drinks at the theatre bar; dine at restaurants before or after the performance (tipping waiters); and travel by car (often paying for a parking spot nearby), taxi or public transportation.
• Previews and reviews circulate in newspapers, magazines, radio stations and internet blogs.
• Out-of-town supporters travel significant distances, depending on various means of transportation, and book hotel rooms for the duration of their stay.
• The vibrancy of the city’s cultural scene increases, which in turn attracts more tourists, making the cultural experience a self-perpetuating entity to be capitalized on again and again.
It is easy to see that the economic impact of this small theatre production goes far beyond what happens at the box office on performance nights. Knowing this, we have a multitude of reasons to consider arts funding as a collective and quite profitable investment that significantly boosts the local – and therefore federal – economy.
Here is some information to support this statement:
• The real value-added input of cultural sector industries totaled $46 billion in 2007.
• Together – direct, indirect and induced contributions brought the economic footprint of the cultural sector to $84.6 billion that year, or 7.4% of Canada’s real gross domestic product.
• The same year, cultural sector investments represented only 0.7% of total government spending, for a sector that generated 7.4% of the country’s GDP.
• The arts and cultural sector generated approximately $25 billion in taxes for all levels of government in 2007, more than three times higher than the $7.9 billion that was spent on culture by all levels of government.
• 616,000 Canadians are directly employed in the cultural sector, which is about double the level of employment in the forestry sector in Canada (300,000) and more than double the level of employment in Canadian banks (257,000).
• Nearly 1.1 million jobs can be attributed directly and indirectly to economic activity generated by cultural sector industries, which represents 7.1% of Canada’s total employment.
• The culture-related workforce grew by 31% over the past decade.
• Consumer spending on live performing arts events increased by 56% between 1997 and 2005, after adjusting for inflation, and accounts for $1.2 billion of overall cultural spending.
• Consumer spending on live performing arts is more than double the level of consumer spending on live sports.
• The arts and cultural sector is a growth market, with substantive potential for further expansion.
Simply put, government investment in the cultural sector more than pays for itself in terms of income generated throughout the Canadian economy; cutting government funding to the arts does not make economic sense.
2. “Are cultured societies really happier, smarter, more compassionate and healthier?”
Although it may seem obvious that a creative and stimulating environment has a positive effect on everybody’s overall health and wellness, some people still have their doubts.
Here’s some data you can share with them:
• Arts and culture play an important role in “at least seven of the twelve determinants of health” defined by Health Canada.
• The arts have a beneficial impact on students in six specific areas: reading and language skills, mathematical skills, thinking skills, social skills, motivation to learn, and positive school environment.
• According to Hill Strategies, using arts and culture to engage marginalized groups and the elderly results in higher academic achievement, better “life success”, and the ability to address difficult social issues.
• Recent Swedish research demonstrates the positive correlation between attending cultural events and performances and higher levels of well-being and increased longevity.
• Respected Danish researcher and professor Bengt-Åke Lundvall concluded that countries who do better economically and politically are precisely the ones who deliberately contributed to a “creative and cultural climate”.
• Arts and culture organizations report engaging more than 930,000 volunteers.
• In 2005, Canadians who attended a culture/heritage event or performance of music, theatre or dance were 31% more likely to volunteer as compared with those who did not attend a performance.
• Canadians who attend a theatrical performance are 16% more likely to have a very strong sense of belonging to Canada than those who did not attend.
3. “What is immaterial wealth and how does it contribute to human evolution?”
This argument is more difficult to support, since immaterial wealth is intangible and therefore difficult to measure. But if we think about it, its existence and its effects on our lives are quite obvious. Do we know for sure how much Beethoven influenced us? Can we put a number on how many people were enlightened by his creations? Can we measure to what extent they were transformed? No.
But we can all agree (even people who do not enjoy his work) that his musical achievements are considerable and important. And they, without a doubt, contributed to the evolution of humanity. Can you imagine a world without music, film, dance, sculpture, fashion, drawing, theatre, literature, architecture, photography, gastronomy, poetry, painting or calligraphy? What would remain? What kind of lives would we live? What kind of human beings would we be? The thought of it scares and saddens me.
Of course, not every artist is a Beethoven. But each artist propels humanity forward, whether we enjoy his or her works or not. Isn’t it extraordinary to contemplate that the existence of artistic works can be traced back to the dawn of humanity? Shouldn’t that prove to us all that there is a very profound human need to express ourselves through some artistic means? People who pretend they don’t like the arts are usually unaware that they are constantly surrounded by them – and enjoy them. Ironically, as Krista Erickson tries to convince her audience that arts funding is a waste, the medium in which she functions is engulfed in art: lighting design, set design, graphic design, musical and sound engineering, film direction, script writing, make-up, hair styles, fashion design, to name only a selection. Almost everything around her at that moment is influenced by the work artists have done in the past. Could you imagine the same show with plain white light only, no set, no music, no camera angles, basic primitive language, no make-up and a drab utilitarian uniform?
Clearly, it wouldn’t be the same. It would be horribly boring. And so would be a world without the arts.
4. “I understand the arts are important. But I don’t think they should be financed by the state. Why can’t the arts follow the basic rules of supply and demand as everything else?”
This question represents the basis of the argument proposed by Montréal’s Nathalie Elgrably-Lévy. She goes one step further by posturing that the arts funding debate is not about opposing right-wing and left-wing ideologies. According to her, it is about freedom from state-controlled finances. Strategically, this is a smart stance. Living in Montréal, Elgrably-Lévy is aware that left-wing thinkers surround her, for the most part. In this environment, it certainly sounds more noble to say, “I am fighting for freedom”, than admitting “I am fighting for conservatism”. But would eliminating arts funding really support freedom?
In many ways, artistic exploration is very similar to scientific research. In the scientific community, some research ventures are so obviously commercial in nature that they can easily find private funding, since an economic return on the investment is virtually guaranteed. Others are more concerned with expanding knowledge and acquiring deeper understanding. This latter type of scientific investigation is usually not cost-effective. But these research experiments are the ones that contribute to human evolution the most – quantum physics, genetics or environmental studies, for example. Allowing the private sector and consumers to dictate where the research monies should be directed would allow for only profit-generating research, unless individual scientists can afford to fund their own research. Scientific experiments that fail to produce immediate returns on their investments are not entirely worthless. To value any research endeavour on this basis alone would only satisfy an economic model and not an evolutionary one.
A parallel can be drawn in the cultural sector. Should only commercial art works be created? Should artistic exploration and expression be limited to only those who directly generate an economic pay-off? Of course not. This kind of thinking is not only dangerously narrow-minded, but negates the creative potential of the human spirit.
5. “As an honest taxpayer, I am offended that some of my hard-earned money goes into the artists’ pockets.”
This belief is unfortunately more common than we think. People need to understand that this is not a fight between taxpayers and artists, since artists are taxpayers too. When an artist receives a grant, the majority of the money doesn’t end up in his or her pocket. Grant recipients hire a vast array of professionals: artistic, technical, administrative and promotional. All of these people are taxpayers. And remember that “nearly 1.1 million jobs can be attributed directly and indirectly to economic activity generated by culture sector industries, which represents 7.1% of Canada’s total employment”.
6. “I think artists are lazy and spoiled. They are only fighting to keep their special privileges.”
This is obviously a huge misconception. As we know, artists need to work very hard to earn a living from their art. It takes many years of study followed by consistent training to obtain and maintain a professional level. Furthermore, applying for grants is not easy. The availability of grants is limited, and most applicants are not successful.
Here are a few statistics about the realities of being an artist:
• With average annual earnings of $23,500, artists are in the lowest quarter of average earnings of all occupation groups, earning 26% less than the average Canadian worker.
• A typical dancer, musician, singer or other performer earns only about $10,000 per year.
• Female, aboriginal and visible minority artists have particularly low average earnings.
• 54% of non-profit arts and culture organizations report annual revenues of $30,000 or less. Only 7% have annual revenues of $500,000 or more.
• As reported in 2007 by the Conference Board of Canada, cultural exports are greatly eclipsed by imports, leaving a net trade deficit in the cultural sector.
7. “I think artists are elitists. I don’t relate to their pompous little world.”
We must make everyone realize that the average artist is a normal, down-to-earth person. And yes, of course, there is a bit of elitism in the cultural sector. But isn’t there elitism in any specialized field? What makes Olympic athletes any less elitist than distinguished artists? Nothing, really. Aren’t we all proud when a Canadian athlete competes on an international level? Shouldn’t we then all feel the same when one of our artists is recognized and acclaimed internationally? I certainly hope the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!”
8. “I don’t get contemporary art. Therefore, it is stupid.”
This is another widely held sentiment. What everyone must understand is that art, and especially contemporary art, is not always about accessibility and pleasurable entertainment. Art pushes boundaries. It raises questions. It comments on the world. It reveals humanity in all of its beauty and horror. It explores the abstract concepts of line, movement, sound, texture, colour and time, often from very unusual perspectives. Art exposes joy and agony. It allows us to dive within the depths of the indescribable world of another human being. Effort may be required to experience its value.
And that’s a good thing. It is not a new concept. Many artists and creators, whose work we applaud today, were at first not appreciated by their contemporaries. Many of the things we enjoy today as “normal entertainment” have been directly influenced by these originally misunderstood works.
That’s exactly what evolution is all about. The challenging works of today will shape the world of tomorrow.
I personally like to draw a parallel between contemporary art and gourmet cuisine. It takes some basic knowledge and life experience to fully savour a wonderful gastronomic experience. Would you bring your five-year-old child to an award-winning French-Asian fusion restaurant for a twelve-course tasting menu? Chances are, this is not going to work so well. But if you gradually introduce your child to different types of food and educate him or her accordingly, it is more than likely that as an adult, he or she will be able to relish the greatest treasures of culinary art. While the experience can’t be quantified in an economic way, there is no doubt that if he or she is in a position to value it, this will enrich his or her life.
This happens with art. Art takes time, education and patience. In our technological era, this can be a particularly challenging sell. And it’s all worth it. But of course, not everything is for everyone. Artists themselves do not like all works or artistic movements. And that’s normal. We all have our personal tastes. But it certainly doesn’t mean that contemporary art has zero value because someone had a single bad experience. Saying, “I went to a modern dance show once and I hated it, so I am done,” is essentially equivalent to saying, “I watched a Hollywood movie once and I hated it, so I am done.”
And really, who could pretend they understand and appreciate all of science, economics, or sports? Only a very few, if any. Does this mean these fields deserve to be ridiculed? Obviously not. They deserve our respect, and so do arts and culture.
9. “I heard that artists are asking people to boycott the SunTV News Network following Krista Erickson’s interview with dance icon Margie Gillis. Isn’t this an attack on freedom of expression? Shouldn’t the artists support expression? Isn’t Ms. Erickson allowed to have her own opinions and express them like artists do?”
This is a big one, and certainly not the first time the limits of freedom of expression beg to be defined, because even freedom of expression must have its limits. Of course, Erickson is allowed to have her own opinions and she is certainly allowed to express them. We all agree that it is healthy to question or even confront certain ideas. In this case, as in many others, the important factor is context. If the conversation between Erickson and Gillis had happened privately, for instance during a party, it would have been a different story. Erickson’s views – though rudely expressed – would have simply been just that: her privately held opinions. But this conversation was not private. It was public. Erickson’s professional responsibility (as stated by the CBSC/CAB Code of Ethics) is to ensure that the news is represented “with accuracy and without bias”. When Erickson chose to abandon her code of ethics and launch a personal attack on Gillis, she demonstrated the awesome power that the media possess, but not the journalistic responsibility that should attend it. This was not journalism; it was bullying.
Journalistic ethics aside, the argument for unbounded freedom of expression runs amok when freedom of expression is used as a cover for hurtful behaviour. Think about it: if a school student bullies another one, can we really accuse the victim of attacking the freedom of expression of his aggressor when the victim asks him to stop? Would this mean that the school principal is against freedom of expression because he punished the bully for his actions? If freedom of expression has no end, and SunTV News Network supporters can accuse artists of attacking it when they complain about Erickson’s treatment of Gillis, then in return, SunTV supporters should be considered equally at fault for criticizing those who protest. The result is an incessant spiral where we’re all constantly wrong, just for having an opinion. “Freedom of expression at all costs” has the potential to destroy the foundational value of mutual respect (which constitutes the very fabric of Canadian society) and can only lead to disaster: abusive behaviour, totalitarian thinking – or worse – complete silence.
Now, within the context of “freedom of expression”, I can understand the articles of Nathalie Elgrably-Lévy, even though I don’t agree with them. We live in a free society, and that’s something in which we all should take pride. But I believe that the SunTV News Network is a serious threat to the democratic process, professional integrity, political fairness, Canadian journalistic standards and, ironically, freedom of expression. We must stop this completely biased, aggressive and disrespectful “journalism” in our country as soon as possible. “Let it be” is not an acceptable option. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to watch the infamous interview with Margie Gillis.
Then watch this documentary about Fox News in the United States. As you will see, it is very easy to draw parallels between Fox News and SunTV.
The major reason why anti-cultural smear campaigns resonate with some sectors of our population is that they perpetuate well-established stereotypes regarding the arts community. While turning inward to our own arts communities is a necessary and natural reaction in the face of media-generated guerilla attacks (circling the wagons, so to speak), we must understand that our survival depends on our ability to connect in a meaningful way with the people who influence and impact the arts. Failure to do so is cultural suicide.
So there it is. The “war” has begun. And we have to stand up for ourselves. Our weapons are knowledge, creativity, open-mindedness, receptivity, compassion, teamwork and action. Will you join the ranks? ~
Louis Laberge-Côté is a dancer, choreographer, teacher and rehearsal director. A former dancer with Toronto Dance Theatre and the Kevin O’Day Ballett Nationaltheater Mannheim, he is currently freelancing in Toronto.
I would like to thank Michael Caldwell, Renée Côté, Tara Gonder and Claude Lamothe for their valuable help in writing this article.
To be pro-active in the fight against the SunTV News Network, please follow these easy steps:
1. Do not watch SunTV and avoid visiting their website as they receive money from their sponsors each time you do so.
2. Ask the CRTC (http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/INFO_SHT/G8.HTM) to remove SunTV from basic cable programming. As of now, it is regulated that SunTV is included in basic cable, which means that your cable TV provider won’t be able to do anything if you ask them to remove this channel from your bundle. Sadly, even if you never watch it, SunTV will still make money out of your pocket since you are paying for basic cable.
3. Sign the petition (through Twitter) to ask the CRTC to remove SunTV from basic cable programming (http://twitition.com/6v4go).
4. If SunTV ends up not being under basic cable regulations, ask your cable TV provider to remove it from your bundle.
5. Join the “Boycott Sun News Network” Facebook group. (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Sun-News-Network-Canada/207042459328166)
6. Notify SunTV advertisers (you’ll find a list and contact info below) that if they support the channel, you will boycott their business. This is particularly effective with profit-driven entities such as Quebecor, owner of SunTV News.
7. Write to your Member of Parliament (http://www.parl.gc.ca/SenatorsMembers.aspx?Language=e) and ask him or her to take the issue to the House of Commons. Canada is a democratic country in which all opinions should be expressed respectfully and with intelligence.
8. Do not send aggressive messages to Krista Erickson directly. She is apparently using these statements to back-up her pretense that the cultural sector is full of bullies.~
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