“...art is elevated, to its detriment, as the preserve of an exceptional caste, and culture itself is seen as a rather unwieldy economic instrument."
At a recent meeting I attended that brought together students from The University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, a debate broke out from one attendee’s seemingly benign suggestion that we, as students of art and culture, should publicly show our support of these broad fields. The comment arose in response to a discussion we were having about the Canadian federal government’s 2008 funding cuts that reduced – and in some cases entirely extinguished – the operating budgets of certain creative programs. I was surprised that Arts and Humanities could agonize over the ethics and implications of a political demonstration in support of itself, but I was at least heartened that we as a group did attempt to examine so comprehensively the statement we would make if we held a demonstration that took a critical stance on such a complex issue, whose myriad facets I hope to illustrate in the next pages. Yet, troublingly, it also appeared that we had too deeply internalized our own marginalization when one woman in attendance voiced her concern in an argument using the following metaphor: Say I like chocolate. I really enjoy eating it and feel that it’s an important part of my life. Then it’s up to me to satisfy my desire for chocolate. I don’t ask the state to supply it for me, and I don’t claim that it matters to anyone else. So it’s the same for the arts. She spoke matter-of-factly, in a tone that aimed to express her knowing maturity about a hard economic reality wherein anyone who matters understands that only lip service will ever be paid to art. She thus concluded: The state shouldn’t have to sponsor my art habit.
FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS TO THE ARTS AND CULTURE
In the Prime Minister’s view, creative types are extraordinary in the worst way, and this opinion motivated what can only properly be described as ideological revisions recently carried out in the Department of Canadian Heritage. In early summer 2008 (while on parliamentary summer break, meaning that no debate could be held in the House of Commons) the Conservative government announced approximately $48.5 million in cuts to the arts and culture that would reallocate allegedly unproductive funds from certain programs to others (Zorde 7). The subsequent onslaught of news reports, protests, art magazine articles, and concerned citizens’ blog entries frequently mentioned several of the specific programs affected by this overall reduction, yet few if any could fully enumerate what had been cut, and where all of the freed money went. The Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) claims that as of September 19, 2008 $72 million had so far been cut. The editorial in Fuse Magazine’s October issue states that “since taking power in 2006, the Harper Conservatives have eliminated almost $40 million dollars from Cultural and Heritage Granting Programs” (Zorde 7). As noted by Paddy Johnson of rabble.ca (a left-wing Canadian site featuring independent journalism), “a lot of people…don’t have pre-existing knowledge on how and where all this funding is directed, so it’s more than a little disturbing that you basically have to be an investigative reporter to get information the government could give you by running a basic search query” (Johnson).
In the interest of giving at least an idea of the nature of the budget changes, I will list some of the programs representative of those that have been discontinued or minimized, as well as some of the programs that have benefited from the reprioritization. The CCA’s Annual Federal Budget Analysis reports that on the whole, federal funding of the arts and culture has been relatively consistent over the past few years, and that, overall, spending is actually on the rise. The CCA lists 16 programs that were terminated or pared down between April 1, 2008 and September 2, 2008. Among the most talked about have been PromArt, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), and Trade Routes, run by the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH), both cancelled entirely, and both of which promoted Canadian culture abroad. It is worth noting that the discontinuation of these two programs follows a 2006 reduction of the Museums Assistance Program (MAP) budget by $4.63 million, leaving it to operate on just over $3 million annually. The MAP funded many collections and museum upgrades across Canada, often through grants under $25,000 to small institutions whose survival depended on these minimal sums. E-Culture, the National Training Program for the Film and Video Sector, and the Canadian Memory Fund, all under PCH, were also eliminated (Canadian Conference of the Arts). The choice of cuts reflects at least three discernable elements of the government’s agenda: controlling the exposure of Canadian culture internationally; resisting the democratization of history and creative production; and protecting the interests of large businesses. The overall aim is one of definitive control, consolidated in Ottawa. But we must ask: control over what, exactly? As we will see, Conservative strategies typically have more to do with encouraging grassroots economic successes in communities across Canada, and in a later analysis of Conservative spending, I find that the government tends to support small museums in small places. This apparent inconsistency suggests that the government is specifically concerned about giving its official backing to certain projects aligned with certain ideologies.
Programs and institutions that continue to be favoured include the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, both of which have undergone major renovations that, while necessary to preserve the integrity of their collections, are most often recognized for their cosmetic appeal in news headlines. At the time of writing, the Vancouver Art Gallery expects to receive support as normal, and The Canada Council has received a $30 million recurrent increase to its base budget. Cultural infrastructures such as Ottawa’s National Arts Centre and Ottawa’s national museums benefited from a government investment of $100 million (Ibid). Additionally, funds have been promised to build the first major national museum outside of the national capital region (the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, slated for Winnipeg). A national portrait gallery for which several major Canadian cities were encouraged to submit proposals was expected to house some 4 million photographs and over 20,000 paintings, prints, and drawings representing Canada’s history. However, on November 7, 2008, the government announced without warning that the project would be cancelled, leaving shortlisted cities Calgary and Edmonton confused and several thousand dollars poorer. (Ottawa was also a contender, but it is safe to say that it was not surprised by its own decision) (O'Hanlon). The evident trend in these choices is to solidify control over cultural content in the national capital region, promote an uncontroversial traditional museological structure, and maintain the appearance of national cultural appreciation while this commitment really holds only so far as the large institutions generate tourism and revenue. However, there are yet again contradictions to this neat analysis. Placing the Portrait Gallery in Calgary was Harper’s own idea. Does this reflect hometown favouritism, or does it relate to larger Conservative strategy? There is also the possibility that, in following the MAP cuts, the government does not plan to extend special protection to museums over the long term. Could it have simply chosen to begin its withdrawal of public arts and culture funding by starting with artists, who it portrays as greedy for handouts, as opposed to museums, which project a certain – generally much more conservative – image of Canada to its population?
ATTEMPTING TO UNDERSTAND OTTAWA
Having introduced the Conservatives’ treatment of Canadian arts and culture, I proceed to explore this question first by following the history of Calgary’s partisanship as well as Harper’s political ideology. These entwined trajectories reveal some of the interconnections between Calgary and Ottawa in terms of political allegiances and shared strategies. With this background knowledge, I investigate the intentions and motivations behind the cuts. Turning back to the anomalously conservative and creative Calgary, I examine the myriad factors contributing to the city’s success, and compare these with the attitudes and strategies espoused in the nation’s capital. I question whether Richard Florida’s model of the “creative city,” which equates economic success with a type of creativity reminiscent of Harper’s ideals, can help us to explain Calgary’s situation. I conclude by reflecting on some of Calgary’s tensions with Ottawa, and consider how these tensions currently coexist and under what circumstances they might transform into conflicts.
WHAT IS CALGARIAN CONSERVATISM
Calgary has long been considered a conservative city, represented federally throughout the 1990s by the Reform Party and by the Progressive Conservatives provincially. In the 2000, 2004, and 2008 federal elections, the Conservative candidate won in each of its municipal ridings (MacDonald). But Calgary, a city of 1,042,892 (City of Calgary Official Website) million also supports fast-paced economic growth, has the youngest labour force in any major Canadian city, contains 50% of Canada’s total downtown office space, and ranked 4.4% above the national average of post-secondary education levels in 2007 (Calgary’s Vital Signs Report 2009 5). From this constellation of characteristics, we may begin to infer that Calgary’s metropolitan conservatism is of a different breed than that which predominates throughout rural (and increasingly suburban) Canada; it is one that successfully exploits the economic expediency of arts and culture. In contrast to Calgary, many other cultural centres in Canada tend to embrace the Liberal platform. For example, the Conservatives failed to win a single seat in the urban cores of Vancouver and Toronto in the 2008 federal election (Greenaway). Montréal favoured the Bloc Québecois, but even still, the Conservatives ranked a comparatively low 4th out of 5 parties, with just a 15.67% share of the vote (MacDonald). Considering these trends, there appears to exist a Conservative battle over culture raging internally between its urban and rural supporters.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HARPER’S POLITICAL CAREER AND ALBERTA’S CONSERVATISM
CONSERVATIVE IDEOLOGY AT PRESENT
Conservative pre-election spending in the Department of Heritage totaled $1,132,701,327 between June 2 and September 6, 2008 (Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation). Of the funds directed toward art and culture festivals, museums, and galleries, most were divided between small heritage centre type institutions, small community celebrations of local history and culture, French language promotion, community theatre, and music festivals. But the nearly $50 million cuts were never justified against these choices. If the government had done so, it could never have pulled the “fiscal prudence” or “trimming the fat” (Department of Finance Canada) card. Instead, the Conservative government has pointed out how it supports the beacons of national culture that are considered staples of first world nations. It does this to appear somewhat germane to the “art-minded” constituency, to capture the elite appeal of art and culture, and to affirm Canada’s parity with other powerful countries. I want to affirm that these Department of Heritage allocations do represent a very valuable and diverse set of projects that deserve support. I reference them here not to argue that they ought to suffer instead, but for the purpose of showing just how precise the Conservatives have been in their choice of cuts as well as in the manner of their publicity and that once again, the facile excuse of economic pressure breaks down.
Reassuringly, the reaction of the voting public confirmed that Harper misread a significant segment of popular opinion. The Québecois responded especially strongly against his ideological bent (Scoop Independent News), as did many students, academics, cultural practitioners, and “ordinary” people nationwide. Moreover, the incident made Harper appear even farther out of step with Canada’s fellow industrialized countries, whose political and economic policies are adapting to acknowledge the global north’s transition from industrial production and accumulative regimes into knowledge based economies wherein creative industries stand poised to lead. Britain, for example, has produced two creative industries “mapping” documents released in 1998 and 2001 as well as a Creative Industries Taskforce whose aim, says writer and policy analyst Kate Oakley, “was to convince mainstream policymakers of the economic importance of these activities and thus the value of public investment in them” (Oakley 3). Social and cultural analyst, Andrew Ross, has written a review that focuses on the “enthusiastic reception” of the creative industries policy paradigm by the UK, the USA and China among the many places it has been adopted (Ross 19). And here I return to Calgary (see fig. 4.1), because what Harper’s philistinism stands in most striking contrast to is his own hometown.
But what are the second-order reasons underlying Calgary’s success? Why does it look, in its artistic and cultural dimensions, like the rest of Canada ought to? Calgary’s difference consists primarily in a way of thinking about these issues that forms a disjuncture with how Canadian culture has traditionally been imagined. Its vibrancy owes to an entrepreneurial ethos, rather than a heavy reliance on state funding. It does of course receive federal and provincial funding, as well as Canada Council grants, but the success of municipal commerce provides substantial stimulus for cultural enterprises to establish themselves and for businesses to adopt creative strategies without the federal government intervening to manipulate them. The city maintains a creative momentum without the strategic placement of huge institutions to which the federal government has had recourse in Toronto and Ottawa especially. It is telling that Calgary contains 50% of all of Canada’s small businesses (Calgary’s Vital Signs). With its conservatism and business mindset, it has taken something of a free market approach to the arts and culture, and this represents one side of its successful equation. The other side contains important variables that are maybe nonintuitive, but which can be solved for in part using ideas from the “creative class.”
Florida’s formula explaining creativity and cities consists in the following “3Ts” slogan: technology, talent (creative capital, meaning “creative occupations”), and tolerance. His commonsensical view is that urbanized places actively using and developing technology attract a diverse workforce whose heterogeneity (and homosexuals, visible minorities, and bohemians) naturally foments creativity (Florida 35-7). Although Florida describes his three factors as highly mobile flows, he maintains that they work in concert to accelerate growth and prosperity with increasing rapidity. Florida also evokes parallels with the free market for the reason that strong community ties (controls) tend to reinforce the status quo and exclude outsiders (growth). He adds that the creative centres are not:
Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class glibly identified, using clever data manipulation, a class of workers whose economic importance is growing significantly and who will predictably gravitate toward the social milieu offered by these creative centres. But his simplistic categorization of both constituent groups of the creative class and the places they inhabit grossly abstracts and flattens the range of human experience and identity. Moreover, his suspiciously causal relationships are made further problematic by difficulties in enumeration, statistical standards, and how his categories are defined.
Despite these problems, the concept of the “creative centre” may still help us think productively about Calgary. This city generates creative work from the bottom up – not necessarily in the archetypal grassroots sort of way, but in the sense of individuals and small organizations realizing for their own reasons that creative businesses that import an art-world aesthetic and organize cultural experiences for the community generate revenue in their own right. And more importantly, they spawn wider prosperity as connections proliferate through an energized, engaged atmosphere. Florida spoke in Calgary on May 12, 2008 at ACAD’s second annual “Stirring Culture” conference, where he let the audience know of his current work mapping Canada’s “creative cities.” He also revealed some preliminary data that placed Calgary 4th in terms of Canada’s creative work force as well as for its proportion of visible minorities, 2nd on “brain gain” and technology, and 7th for average income. Interestingly, he commented that Ottawa has performed very well on his indicators so far, besting or placing close by to Calgary. It therefore merits recourse to more statistics in order to understand some of the specific factors that enable Calgary to flourish. I break these down using Florida’s rubric.
NUMBERS CAN’T SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
And all of these things are, in fact, well aligned with Conservative ideas. One of the most serious criticisms leveled at Florida’s model is that it creates a “new class” of workers whose work is intermittent and whose existence is precarious because it must rely on entrepreneurial skill instead of corporate benefits and loyalty. This notion evokes consonance with Conservatism’s minimized government and social safety net. Creativity isn’t inimical to Conservatism; Prime Minister Harper simply hasn’t learned to apply creative industries policies to neoliberal economics. Instead, he manipulates art and culture in a way that creates public bias against government spending on it but that doesn’t directly impede – and therefore enrage – communities where a creative atmosphere is already inbuilt through a confluence of businesses, stable institutions, and grassroots interest.
Calgarians, being already wealthy and having de facto adopted a creative industries paradigm, can continue to support the federal Conservatives without greatly injuring their arts and culture. Rural voters still vote Conservative in a landslide, making it obvious that Harper’s rhetorical spin on the arts in concert with the amounts – miniscule in the grand scheme – reallocated from the Department of Heritage’s budget achieved their aim. The Prime Minister is carefully regulating the expression of Canadian culture and simultaneously managing its image to recruit more citizens into the ranks of those who roll their eyes at it. The contradictions between federal and Calgarian Conservatism may, however, turn into irreconcilable differences apparent on the political stage if Harper begins to control industry in a way that disrupts the variety and multiplicity of Calgary’s businesses or begins to control the content of Canadian producers at the source. The latter has been a real threat with the introduction of Bills C-10 and C-61, both of which died when the 39th Parliament was dissolved on September 7, 2008 (Nowak). Bill C-10 would give the federal Heritage Department the power to deny funding for films and TV shows it considers offensive, and according to Michael Geist, Bill C-61 would “[eviscerate] user rights in the digital environment by virtually eliminating fair dealing. Under this bill, the right to copy for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, and news reporting virtually disappears if the underlying content is digitally locked” (Geist). Thanks to pan-Canadian fury, Harper’s Conservatives vowed not to reintroduce C-10 if re-elected in the October 2008 election, which they were. But the same platform statement pledged to reintroduce the controversial copyright-reform legislation contained in C-61. If this happens, enough will be at stake that Canadians can unite across party lines and the divides of urban and rural, art gala-goers and business folk in opposition to having their rights so sweepingly curtailed. But until these foundations of artistic integrity, community, and business success are seriously threatened, Calgary (and cities like it) will continue to show that Conservative ideology can mesh with Floridian principles and raise the possibility that in Canada, to be creative could, in fact, be Conservative.
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