By Tristin Hopper
The recent elimination of two federally funded arts support programs threatens to limit international opportunities for fledgling Canadian art producers, say Yukon artists.
The Prime Minister’s Office is saying that the cuts are a step towards more “effective” arts funding programs.
On August 8th, the government confirmed that it was ending financing on Trade Routes and PromArt — two programs designed to assist Canadian artists in selling their work on the international stage.
“The Government of Canada … is committed to a more disciplined approach to managing spending in order to deliver programs that are efficient and effective and that meet the priorities of Canadians,” said a post on the Trade Routes website, explaining the change.
The primary purpose of Trade Routes was to link Canadian artists with contracts and bookings outside Canada.
Under Trade Routes, talent scouts are flown in, artists are flown out and festivals are co-sponsored or initiated with the intention of “marrying off” artists to foreign buyers.
PromArt subsidizes the travel expenses of Canadian artists travelling abroad.
At the Western Canadian Music Awards in Edmonton, it was Trade Routes funding that flew in Brent Gulke, artistic director for the world-renowned South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
Gulke hired Whitehorse’s Hungry Hill on the spot, and invited 36 other Western Canadian artists to showcase at South by Southwest, said Mark Smith, executive director of MusicYukon.
“They bring one buyer in of significant importance and he has the chance to affect a whole lot of careers,” said Smith.
“These artists just can’t afford to get there on their own.
“They can afford to make it to Moose Jaw or to Edmonton for a music event — but in terms of going down to try and pitch themselves directly to Texas — no way,” he added.
“If given the opportunity, Yukon musicians shine. If never given the opportunity, then nobody’s ever going to see us,” said Kyle Cashen, a local Whitehorse musician.
Opposition parties have criticized the Conservatives for using the funding cuts as a vehicle to “impose their tastes” on Canadian artists.
“Canadian artists shouldn’t be vetted by the PMO and his pointy-headed staff of Rush Limbaugh-style ideologues,” said Charlie Angus, NDP critic for Digital Culture.
“When governments start meddling in arts funding for political reasons as opposed to arts funding as either too expensive or whatever — then that’s a very scary thing,” said Al Cushing, CEO of the Yukon Arts Centre.
Some Conservative Party representatives have indicated that ideology did play a role in the decision.
“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,” said Kory Teneycke, press secretary for the prime minister, in last Monday’s Globe and Mail.
“Canada leads trade missions around the world to sell various hard products that we manufacture, so why wouldn’t we put the same effort into selling our cultural products?” said Larry Bagnell, member of Parliament for the Yukon.
Bagnell said that the eliminated programs had specific importance for the North.
“We’re so far away from these international buyers and talent scouts that there’s no way that they would see our talent without some subsidy,” he said.
The territories also stand to be particularly hard hit because of a higher proportion of artists, he said.
“The problem for anyone when they get free money from someplace is that they tend to not be as driven as they might otherwise be to find cost-effective solutions to whatever problem they happen to have,” said Maureen Bader, BC Director of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation.
“Artists know what they can do, they know who’s in the business — they could do the same thing (as Trade Routes) and they could do it more effectively and they could do it on their own dime and not on the taxpayer’s dime,” said Bader, who is also a Vancouver-based painter and pastel artist.
“At the end of the day, they would probably be better off for it, instead of waiting for some bureaucrat to take the initiative,” she said.