Feb 1, 2010

BC hearts Art. But only for the show off.


The pedestrian stretch of Granville Street downtown has been brightened lately by a colourful display of public art projects, complete with benches for pedestrians to sit for a moment and enjoy the view. What a great idea, I thought to myself as I stopped to look at one of the sculptures. I always found Vancouver to be rather sparse on the public art front, compared to Seattle, for example. And you have to admit that it’s a relief to see this patch of asphalt come back to life as a public space after years of it being an eye (and ear) sore during the construction of the Canada line.

Walking away from the area, I couldn’t help but wonder: will this stuff stick around after all the tourists are gone? And then it struck me. This isn’t really about revitalizing public spaces in Vancouver. Instead, it’s about showing off to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who are expected to flood Vancouver during the Olympics. It’s about creating an image of the Vancouver that we’d like the world to think we live in, the Vancouver we hope they’d love to come back to, spend their money in or even invest in. (After all, the Olympics wasn’t supposed to be all about sports – advertising our city in order to boost tourism was always considered an important aspect.)

Apparently, I’m not the only one struggling with these issues. Miro Cernetig wrote a thoughtful piece for the Vancouver Sun recently sharing similar concerns about the future of BC Arts after the Olympics.

It [the Cultural Olympiad] is all planting the seeds for a cultural legacy. But will it all evaporate after the Games leave town?

Possibly so.

As most people know, when the world economy hit the rocks last year, the provincial government took the scalpel to arts funding, cutting some grants by 90 per cent. The bean counters in Victoria deemed the deep cuts a fast way to lighten the deficit.

At the moment, the bureaucrats in finance seem to be continuing with that strategy.

Mr Cernetig is right – things aren’t looking bright for Arts funding in BC. As I have reported on this blog, the BC government cut Arts funding considerably in 2009, first in the February Budget then in the September Budget Update.

With a deficit looming close to $3b for this fiscal year and $2b for the next, the Minister of Finance is likely looking for places to trim spending, but Arts should not be on the chopping block. Instead, he should heed the recommendations of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services who unanimously recommended that funding for the Arts be restored to 2008/09 levels in their report to Parliament (see recommendation 26 here). As Mr Cernetig explains:

The facts are clear. Arts groups are not the drain on the treasury as some might suggest. They generate economic activity. In fact, it might not only be wise to restore funding, it’s probably smart to increase arts spending, as many provinces are doing in these tough times.

There’s still time to tell our Premier, the Minister of Finance and your MLA that British Columbians care about the Arts and want to see them properly funded on a regular basis, and not only when mega events are happening in town. Check out creativitycounts.ca for some nifty arts advocacy tools put together by the Alliance for Arts and Culture.