Silencing the Arts

There is an often-repeated story that during the Second World War, when Winston Churchill was advised to cut funding for arts in the United Kingdom to finance the war effort, he simply replied: “Then what are we fighting for?”

Although the quote has never been confirmed, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Mr. Churchill indeed made the comment. It seems appropriate to his persona and, more interestingly, to his particular brand of conservatism. Churchill is inarguably one of the towering figures of the 20th century—a wise and charismatic leader, and a symbol of intelligent governance. One can only imagine what he would say if he were alive to witness an assault on the arts like the one currently underway in Canada.

Since the ascendance of conservatism in Canadian politics half a decade ago, the approach of the country’s governments (at all levels, but particularly federal) toward the arts has shifted drastically. The federal government has indicated repeatedly that its goal is to bring the nation’s budget back into balance after the economic crises of the past few years. Moreover, it’s clear that the Harper government is not interested in spending large amounts of money on arts and culture. This is, of course, in line with the government’s political ideologies—yet the results are increasingly worrying.

In 2008, the federal government slashed $45 million in arts and culture funding across Canada. The uproar was swift, stirring up criticism from the arts community itself, several provincial governments and thousands of ordinary Canadians. The reaction from Quebec, in particular, was quite stinging and was said to have affected the Conservative party’s 2008 election results in that province.

The election of a Conservative majority government this year has once again sent waves throughout the arts communities of Canada, as the political resistance to funding has now been largely removed. The government that seems to care so little for the arts now has a free hand to cut what they wish—and early indications of cuts to come are not sitting well with Canada’s artists. The CBC, for example, has supposedly been notified that 5% of its budget will be slashed as part of “across the board” cuts in every government department. While most Canadians do agree with the current climate of fiscal restraint, under-funding would undermine the CBC’s mandate. As the nation’s public broadcaster, the CBC provides national media and programming coverage in English and French across Canada and is considered an important pillar of Canadian culture. If the cuts indeed take place, its ability to fulfill these requirements may well be jeopardized.

Beyond simply cutting funding, the government has also taken to selectively de-funding certain events on an ideological basis. SummerWorks, a popular Toronto theatre program is threatened with having its federal funding pulled in the wake of a controversial play about terrorism in Canada than ran last year. Although the government denies such politicization of funding decisions, it is a suspicious move. It is a central tenet of democratic societies that people have the right to express their opinions, whatever their merit. If artists fear retribution based on their message, however, that principle is threatened.

The recent SunTV interview with Canadian dance icon Margie Gillis offered a particularly disturbing insight, however, online casino into how deep this antipathy to the arts runs in certain spheres, and how it may be growing. Gillis is widely considered to be one of the greatest modern dancers of her time, and has contributed greatly to dance as an art form and a vehicle of expression. It was deeply upsetting to many people to see her cornered and forced to defend the public money she has received for her craft over the years. That such an internationally renowned figure would need to publicly explain why dance should be funded, or even why it matters at all, is an embarrassment and a disgrace to our collective intellect.

Dance, like all the arts, is above all a form of communication and expression. If Canada is supposed to be a modern, free and democratic country, how can we allow these fundamental components of our culture and society to be chipped away? Leaving arts and culture to flounder on the basis of “fiscal restraint” does a great disservice to our society. It saves some money, perhaps, but also serves to breed ignorance and contempt, and to silence thoughts, hopes and dreams. If a democracy is based on the free exchange of ideas and opinions, the current assault on the arts is really an assault on our democratic principles. We cannot grow as a society, as a country, if we do not allow the arts, and all forms of expression, to grow as well.

The German composer Robert Schumann once said that any artist’s duty was to “send light into the darkness of men”s hearts.” It should trouble us all that their light is slowly being dimmed.

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