I just wanted to note on a couple of things going on locally and federally with regards to funding for the arts.
Here in Calgary, there has been a big push by the mayor to get increased provincial funding for law enforcement. A recent letter to the editor in the Calgary Herald ("Get Tough" September 19 2008) states one view on the issue (HT to Sean Perrin):
Overhaul the justice system so it no longer hugs a thug and starts treating criminals like criminals. They gave up their "rights" when they broke the law, so treat them the way they have treated the good people of our country. Build more jails and get the criminals in them faster and for much longer periods of time. How to pay for that? No fancy bridges, no high-dollar art in government buildings. Funnel all the money that is spent on art, culture and other non-necessary things. In some Caribbean countries, there is no leeway -- you break the law, you go to jail and you serve hard time for a long time. The penalties are too harsh to even consider breaking the law. We need a federal leader who will grow the backbone to seriously shake up the justice system. Come up with a budgeted, realistic and believable promise to do this, and you'll get my vote.The view espoused here (to put it somewhat mildly) is that the arts should come second to other public goods. Some of this debate (and I believe the piece the author is referring to) has developed with the arrival of "A Device to Root Out Evil" in Calgary.
One of the questions raised by this debate is "What is the benefit of public funding of the arts?" Many have argued that funding of the arts is essential for preserving and developing a group or nation's idea of identity. In this sense, support for the arts supports Calgarians' sense of identity or pride in their city. (As a note, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research research group on Social Interactions, Identity, and Well-Being thinks that discussions of identity are often missing form policy debates and economic analysis. Issues of identity have been important in the Council of Europe's research on social exclusion.) Evidence from psychology and economics is that a shared sense of identity can increase cooperation, well-being, and more generally, social capital. In terms of public policy, increases in feelings of shared identity or community could reduce some criminal activity (through increasing the concern individuals have for others or reducing individuals' desire to eschew the law) and increase the productivity of public goods (by reducing the extent of free-riding problems).
Below is a video which takes aim the cuts to arts funding that have occurred under Stephen Harper's government. The message in this video is, I think, one of the importance of arts in preserving (here) Quebecois culture. A couple of notes on the video:
- Michel Rivard is a a Quebecois singer-songwriter. He is one of the founding members of Beau Domage.
- The French word for "seal" (the animal) is "phoque". It is pronounced f*ck.