flick harrison on Thu, 3 May 2012 23:29:50 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The insult of the 1 percent: "Art-history majors"

Hey folks,

I think a lot about the way rich folks patronize art, either as part of their social role or simply because they have the resources to fund Opera the way we rent DVD's.  The federal Conservatives left the Canada Council for the Arts off the chopping block in their massive cuts this February, just like Gordon Campbell actually increased the BC Arts Council's budget when he cut 1/3 of the provincial budget in 2002.
The richies like art, they have the education and cosmopolitan worldview to understand it, and the sense of history to know that it makes their country a better place to live (and / or adds value to their elitist pedigree).

If the middle-class hyper-con base, who despise art, with their allies in the ultra-rich competition-bots, as described below, erode the elite support for the arts, that would be a disastrous change.

This is something I wrote in 2002, interviewing the Minister responsible for provincial arts funding in BC in 2001.  Don't be confused by the name of our provincial Liberal Party; they are somewhere to the right of the federal Conservatives.

- Flick

By Flick Harrison

At first, I thought BC artists had something to be embarrassed about.  On Black Thursday, the day the big Liberal cuts were announced - the second breeze of a five-year neo-liberal hurricane - there was a strange message coded in the bad-news small print.  Hidden amongst the closing hospitals, the disappearing women's shelters, and the crowding prisons, the BC Arts Council is getting a budget increase!  This despite the planned reduction of the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal, and Women's Services - BCAC's home - from a $288M annual budget to $200M by 04-05.

Sure, the BC Festival of the Arts is losing all its $750,000 grant.  Sure, lots of specific arts programs are being axed.  But the Arts Council, which spends around $12 million annually on things like Cineworks [independent filmmakers co-op] and individual artists' grants, has made it onto the elite list of "core services" which, these days, amounts to a stay of execution.

But don't worry, the stay is temporary.  Artists, who may feel guilty filming bellybutton lint with voice-over punctuation-only poetry, while prisoners are squished two to a cell and patients in the interior hope that the highways are clear so's they can get to a hospital, can banish the guilt.  I spoke today with George Abbott, CAWS Minister, and it seems the reprieve will be short-lived, and the increase small.

"For the BC Arts council, I expect that we are going to be able to keep them whole, at least for the next two years.  Year three, 2004-5, is a challenge, but we are always looking for ways to, in partnerships with other levels of government and with the private sector, to find ways to further support the arts in British Columbia."

This, of course, providing there are no more so-called surprises, like the huge tax cut which forced the Liberals to cut services so brutally in the first place - much more deeply than they had originally promised. 

First off, all the strategic goals of the Liberal government feel uncomfortable for the Arts sector:  moving from provincial control to local autonomy, from government delivery to third-party services and the chilling concept of "e-government," from unfocused funding to performance-based funding, and from provincial regulation to self-regulation.  Many Liberal documents trumpet a "customer-service" approach to dealing with businesses - in other words, government is McDonald's and Business is Always Right.  

Where do the goals of arts funding fit in here: spreading the wealth, rooting out hidden talent from a broad population, taking real risks on innovation, pursuing lofty ideals?  Well, they don't.

The first bad omen is the positioning of the BCAC under the CAWS ministry.  Some joked that this could be called the Ministry of People who Don't Vote Liberal, a clearing-house for those who will never be happy with the conservative New Era regime.   But more specifically, the Arts seem more airy-fairy here than they could be under Human Resources or Tourism, for example, though the perils of goal-oriented Arts never seem to slacken, anywhere you slot them.  As Mr Abbot said of the Arts, by way of explaining how it fits his Ministry's strategic goals,

"It's part of what makes British Columbia dynamic and unique.  Communities without arts and culture are not as exciting as they would be with them."

But this admirable enthusiasm is not as specific as the year-by-year gloom Mr Abbott voiced earlier for the BCAC budget.  Another Liberal policy goal is to move from socially-focussed economic policy to business-focussed economic policy.  And that's bad for the Arts. 

There's no official news about BC Film [which administers foreign-production tax credits], though it would seem that their goal of making BC the most competitive business environment in North America would put them in the Liberal good books, despite the standard huge cuts planned for their Ministry.  Some crazy suggestions that film and video artist's grants should skedaddle over to BC Film may have carried the merit of expedience, but conceding that Arts funding is somehow connected to a business boost or industry training would dangerously distort the criteria by which grants are awarded.  First off, the films and videos given money should be of professional, globally-presentable quality, not simply amateur learning projects.  Second, tying them to the economy opens the pandora's box of performance-based management, something by which no Arts community worth its salt could abide.  Though conservatives may despise Political Correctness as a determinant of artistic merit, sur
 ely there could be no worse alternative than Economic Correctness.

* FLICK's WEBSITE: http://www.flickharrison.com 

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