I have to admit to being one of those people that was pretty apathetic about politics. I belonged to that group of people that believe that politicians will say anything to get into office, and then do whatever the heck they like once they are in. And I belong to a pretty politically marginalized chunk of society–artists.
Then, a few years back, I spent a couple of years working at The Alliance for Arts and Culture, and during that time there were a few elections, and I began to see first hand how advocacy really does work.
In one week we go to the polls, and last night I attended Vancouver’s Wrecking Ball. Wrecking Ball is the brainchild of the Department of Culture: “a growing community of Canadian citizens who are artists, arts professionals and cultural workers concerned about ensuring the social and cultural health and prosperity of our nation in the face of a Federal Government that is aggressively undermining the values that define Canada.” Last night, Vancouver was one of 9 Canadian cities that hosted Wrecking Balls: an all-candidates debate focused on the arts, followed by a cabaret.
The debate was attended by four major political parties: Hedy Fry (Liberal), Adriane Carr (Greens), Michael Byers (NDP) and John Cummins (Conservative). It should be noted that the first three candidates are the ones running in that riding, Vancouver Central, while John Cummins, running in the riding of Richmond-Delta, was pinch-hitting last night for Vancouver Central Conservative candidate Lorne Mayencourt.
The debated started with opening statements, and all the candidates tried to convince us that they had ties to arts and culture. Michael Byers, a prof at UBC who has recently published a book, won the crowd over with his admission that he had received Canada Council funding. But then it was on to the nitty-gritty.
The moderator gave each of the candidates some time to outline thier parties’ stance on the arts, and here is what they said:
Green Party: Part of the Green platform is a bit called “Beauty and Integrity,” and that is their arts policy. Basically, it involves funding the arts to a level that is commensurate with other sectors, and increasing transfer funds to the Provinces so they can spend more on the arts.
Conservative: No real financial commitment to the arts. The candidate said it would be “irresponsible” to make those kinds of commitments without knowing where else they may have to spend.
Liberal: The theory of the Liberal candidate was to “ensure artistic freedom.” She also said they would: increase video/film tax breaks to 30%, increase Canada Council funding to $360 M, put $26 M into a digital media strategy, and reinstate the $45 M in cuts from the Harper government.
NDP: Increase Canada Council funding $150M, restore the current $45 M in cuts, and provide stability for the CBC, based on the BBC model, so that no government in the future can touch their funding.
For me, the clear winner early in the evening was the NDP’s eloquent and intelligent Michael Byers. But as the debate went on, Hedy Fry (who is a sparkplug–you don’t want to be on her bad side!) showed why she is the incumbent for that riding. Adriane Carr, while I found her to be a bit touchy-feely and not as specific with details as the others, won me over to her personality by staying even tempered and having a sense of humour. I don’t know that there was a clear winner overall, but there was a clear loser. John Cummins appeared quite uncomfortable, kept paging through his notes, and I lost count of how many times he toed this party line: “The Conservatives have increased funding to the arts by 7.8%.” To be fair, his government has not made him popular, and this was a pretty hostile crowd, so kudos to him for having the balls to show up (Lorne Mayencourt didn’t).
Who should you vote for? I don’t know. Check out the parties’ websites, go to some debates, email your MP questions. But know this: the Culture sector employs 1.1 M people in Canada, and contributes 7.6% to the Gross Domestic Product. It is the fourth largest employment sector in Canada, and is worth $85 Billion. And that gives us a voice, especially when we get together and raise it like so many of us did last night. The Wrecking Ball was packed to the rafters last night at the Stanley, and reports from across the country were the same. It was empowering to be there, to have a voice.
I leave the last word to Adriane Carr, who I think deserves quote of the night: “The crisis around Arts and Culture in this country is that we’ve got the wrong government in power.”
UPDATE: The Georgia Straight published a blurb in Arts Notes. Part of the story was this:
Responding to a question about whether the boards of organizations such as the CBC should be headed by professionals in the field or by political appointees, Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry and her challengers Michael Byers (NDP), and Adriane Carr (Green) all favoured professionals. Cummins disagreed, saying such boards should include businesspeople as well as some members interested in the arts, explaining, “There has to be some oversight.”
In the lobby after the debate, writer and producer Chris Haddock, the creator of Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence, expressed his outrage at Cummins’s remark. “He insulted the whole room by implying that artists aren’t businesspeople, that what we do is some kind of arts and crafts.”
Read the entire piece here.