Alain Pineau was disappointed, but not terribly surprised, when the federal government last week announced it was ending PromArt, a $4.7-million cultural program administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
After all, rumours of the demise of PromArt’s travel grants to artists and arts organizations had been circulating for months.
But Mr. Pineau, national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts – on vacation and cut off from the news – was shocked to learn yesterday that the Tories, late last week, had also decided to terminate Trade Routes, another cultural subsidy initiative, effective next year. “This is amazing,” Mr. Pineau said. “I can’t believe they would be so stupid. It’s just provocative.”
Administered by the Department of Heritage, Trade Routes, valued at about $9-million annually, helps cultural groups such as Hot Docs and the Canadian Independent Record Production Association export and sell products abroad.
Now, says Peter Feldman, former executive director of the Canadian Arts Presenting Association, arts industry officials are wondering if other cultural funding shoes may yet be dropped.
“It’s pure speculation,” Mr. Feldman conceded, “but maybe their intention is to get rid of all the former Liberal government’s Tomorrow Starts Today programs.” That might include Cultural Spaces Canada, a capital renovation fund, and Arts Presentation Canada, an operational subsidy.
Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, declined yesterday to address the decision to close Trade Routes, but noted that Ottawa “spends $3.5-billion on arts funding … and is spending more on arts than did the previous [Liberal] government. In the case of PromArt, we think the [funding] choices made were inappropriate … inappropriate because they were ideological in some cases, with highly ideological individuals exposing their agendas or [money going to] wealthy celebrities or fringe arts groups that in many cases would be at best, unrepresentative, and at worst, offensive.”
Mr. Feldman disputed the contention that the Tories have been more generous to the arts. “If they are spending more, it’s in adjusted-for-inflation dollars. This is about some right-wing troglodytes in the party overcome with self-righteous indignation that people like [Toronto broadcast journalist] Avi Lewis received funding.” He estimated that programs like Trade Routes deliver a 10-to-1 return on investment. “Would we not love to get that from our stock portfolios? If these cuts will save the country’s economy, God help us. We’re in worse shape than I ever thought.”
Mr. Lewis, now reporting for the English-language affiliate of the Al-Jazeera network, said the cuts were “a window into the Machiavellian political tactics of killing a small but crucial government program.”
Public funding for the arts is a proven economic and cultural stimulus that the majority of Canadians embrace, Mr. Lewis said in an e-mail yesterday.
“The government knows … that if the story is framed honestly, there will be little support for killing the program. And so, in the middle of a summer when Canadians are having trouble paying for gas, they find a few examples of grant recipients that will enrage their conservative base … and use that as a political rationale for doing something that would otherwise hurt them politically. Now they’ve succeeded in framing the story in terms of who deserves public funding, rather than who supports it – and that is cynical in the extreme.”