How arts cuts hurt the Yukon

The Dawson City Music Festival may feature fewer Outside performers in 2009 than in previous years because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s…

The Dawson City Music Festival may feature fewer Outside performers in 2009 than in previous years because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s arts funding cuts.

The festival has, in past years, attracted artists from as far away as New Zealand and Mongolia, as well as many musicians from Quebec and the Maritime provinces.

The expense of bringing these artists to the festival was, in part, paid for with federal programs that have been cut under the Harper government, says Amy-Lynn Karchut, the festival’s newly hired co-ordinator,

It’s too early to know to what extent the arts cuts will affect the festival, says Karchut. Various funding applicants are not due until December, and the festival, which runs July 17 to 19, is still 10 months away.

But the arts cuts are “a worry,” she says.

The Harper government has cut $45 million to arts and culture funding since coming to power. These cuts are now an election issue. Opposition parties say the cuts are driven by conservative ideology.

Harper dismisses this criticism and says the cuts only affect a small clique of artistic elites.

So, other than the Dawson festival, how do art cuts affect the Yukon?

It means fewer big-name art shows in Whitehorse, less money for small museums around the territory, and fewer opportunities for new musicians and other artists who seek a leg-up, say arts representatives.

The Yukon Arts Centre’s public art gallery is no longer able to put on big-name exhibits from southern Canada, says its chief executive officer Al Cushing.

The centre depended on a federal program that transported art in climate-controlled trucks to different destinations in Canada, including Whitehorse.

That program ended this summer. Private operators currently offer no such service to the Yukon, says Cushing.

And big-name art shows won’t send their exhibits to locations without such transportation, he says.

“That was a real wallop to us,” Cushing says.

So, Yukoners will no longer see shows such as the Forty Part Motet, a sound installation brought to Whitehorse in 2005, which Cushing describes as “a very important part of contemporary art.”

Yukon’s museums have also seen money cut that had helped them restore and maintain artifacts in their collections, says Patricia Cunning, executive director of the MacBride Museum of Yukon History.

Such work may not be flashy, but it is essential, because without their collections, museums have nothing, she says.

“When the federal government is cutting the only program dedicated to community museums … it’s really a worry for the future of the organization,” says Cunning.

The fund, which is tapped into by 2,200 small museums across Canada, was cut to $7.5 million from $9 million, she says.

The money helped the MacBride museum build a computer database that lets visitors search the collection by subject, she says.

One in three visitors to Whitehorse stop at the museum, she says.

Museums have also been hurt by the loss of the travel fund that helped bring artwork north. The same program also allowed Yukon museums to put their exhibits on tour in Southern Canada, says Cunning.

The impact of arts cuts to Yukon artists themselves is less direct.

Loud protests have followed the cancellation of two programs, PromArt and Trades Routes, this summer. The programs helped bring international arts representatives to Canada, and send Canadians overseas.

There appear to be few examples of Yukoners using these programs.

But the cancellation of these funds have indirect consequences for Yukon artists, says Mark Smith, executive director of Yukon Music.

The cuts mean Yukon artists have fewer opportunities to meet international music representatives at arts gatherings, he says.

Such opportunities are essential for artists trying to break into a foreign market, he says.

“Those contacts are gone,” says Smith.

Matthew Lien, a Yukon musician with a big following in Taiwan, has toured Asia for a decade.

He’s done so without federal grants.

But, given that CD sales are in decline, he is surprised the federal government would cut aid to artists, he wrote in an e-mail.

“The Canadian music industry needs exactly this support to survive,” he says.

The prime minister’s response to criticism is that, in fact, arts funding has gone up.

And it has, in certain areas.

Among the agencies that receive more money is the Canada Council for the Arts, which remains an important source of money for Yukon artists, says Smith.

But he worries what future cuts may be introduced if Conservatives are re-elected.

Harper’s claim that arts and culture money has increased also relies on a loose definition of the arts, says Mario Villeneuve, vice-president of Canadian Artists’ Representation.

After a “shell game” of swapping money about, much of the new money distributed by Heritage Canada has gone towards sports events, such as the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, or towards funding French language programs, he says.

“Is it fair to pit artists against athletes?” he asks.

It could be worse. The Yukon remains “the best place in Canada” to be an artist, says Villeneuve. He credits the territorial government for doling out generous amounts of money to the arts.

But if Harper is re-elected, the cutting of arts money will continue, and Canada will be “the village idiot of the arts scene,” he says.

Just Posted

The Yukon’s current outbreak of COVID-19 is driven by close contact between people at gatherings, such as graduation parties. (Black Press file)
Yukon logs 21 active cases as COVID-19 spreads through graduation parties

Anyone who attended a graduation party is being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.

Yukon RCMP and other emergency responders were on the scene of a collision at Robert Service Way and the Alaska Highway on June 12. (Black Press file)
June 12 collision sends several to hospital

The intersection at Robert Service Way and the Alaska Highway was closed… Continue reading

Artist Meshell Melvin examines her work mounted in the Yukon Arts Centre on June 7. The show includes over 1,000 individual portraits. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Double portrait show at the Yukon Arts Centre features art that looks back

“I hope they’ve been looked at fondly, and I’m hoping that fun looking comes back.”

Sarah Walz leads a softball training session in Dawson City. Photo submitted by Sport Yukon.
Girls and women are underserved in sport: Sport Yukon

Sport Yukon held a virtual event to celebrate and discuss girls and women in sport

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bagged meter fees could be discounted for patios

Council passes first reading at special meeting

Kluane Adamek, AFN Yukon’s regional chief, has signalled a postponement to a graduation ceremony scheduled for today due to COVID-19. She is seen here in her Whitehorse office on March 17. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
AFN Yukon’s post-secondary grad celebration postponed

The event scheduled for June 14 will be rescheduled when deemed safe

(Alexandra Newbould/Canadian Press)
In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on.
Terror charges laid against man accused in London attack against Muslim family

Liam Casey Canadian Press A vehicle attack against a Muslim family in… Continue reading

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, poses for a portrait in the boardroom outside his office in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Sept. 30, 2020. (Emma Tranter/Canadian Press)
Two cases of COVID-19 at Iqaluit school, 9 active in Nunavut

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says two COVID-19 cases at Iqaluit’s middle… Continue reading

The Village of Carmacks has received federal funding for an updated asset management plan. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Federal funding coming to Carmacks

The program is aimed at helping municipalities improve planning and decision-making around infrastructure

Paddlers start their 715 kilometre paddling journey from Rotary Park in Whitehorse on June 26, 2019. The 2021 Yukon River Quest will have a different look. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
The 22nd annual Yukon River Quest moves closer to start date

Although the race will be modified in 2021, a field of 48 teams are prepared to take the 715 kilometre journey from Whitehorse to Dawson City on the Yukon River

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its June 7 meeting

Letters to the editor.
This week’s mailbox: the impact of residential schools, Whitehorse Connects, wildfires

Dear Editor; Anguish – extreme pain, distress or anxiety. Justice – the… Continue reading

PROOF CEO Ben Sanders is seen with the PROOF team in Whitehorse. (Submitted)
Proof and Yukon Soaps listed as semifinalists for national award

The two companies were shortlisted from more than 400 nominated

Most Read