Gordon Campbell recently announced that the lottery grants program will fund only “a limited number of arts and cultural activities” this year, even though revenues from gaming have increased. This, after last February’s budget which cut arts funding by 40 percent. And before that, Stephen Harper cut federal funding to the arts by 44 million dollars.
I realize we’re in a recession. These are “tough economic times” and we all have to “tighten our belts.” But axing funding to the arts just doesn’t make sense. It’s not good for the queer community. It’s not good for a civil society. It doesn’t even make economic sense.
There has always been a higher percentage of queers in the arts than in any other sector, except perhaps hospitality (I mean, when’s the last time you had a straight waiter?). Queers are drawn to the arts. As outsiders, we often have a more discerning eye on society. Queers understood before anyone else the huge talents of Judy Garland, Bette Midler and Cher.
There have been a disproportionate number of queer actors, writers, film directors, dancers, composers, visual artists and musicians. We need to see our lives reflected.
Over the past few decades more and more queer writers, filmmakers, photographers, playwrights and musicians have been reproducing queer life in art. This is good for us. It’s good for our families, who might not understand our lives. It’s good for our neighbours, our friends, and our colleagues.
Seeing our lives reflected in art makes it pretty hard to believe in absolutes, such as “God hates fags” if you are a critical thinker.
It’s hard to be a gaybasher if you’ve seen The Laramie Project, the play that chronicles the murder of gay youth Mathew Shepard. It’s hard to hate all lesbians if you love Ellen or if you just can’t get enough of The L Word. If you love watching reruns of Bewitched and you know that Agnes Moorehead, the actor who plays Samantha’s mother was a big old lesbian, perhaps you’ll be fond of big old lesbians.
Think of how many straight people know the entire lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If only they’d known back in the 1980s how queer Freddy Mercury was, think of how much homophobia could have been avoided.
And believe it or not, government funding to the arts is actually good for the economy. BC has traditionally been a resource-based economy relying heavily on forestry and fishing but thanks to our unsustainable, environmentally horrifying practices, those days are history. We’ve overfished and clearcut our way into a recession.
We must look forward to the future and the future is in technology and a creative based economy. According to the Alliance for Arts and Culture, “the arts, culture, and entertainment industry is a significant source of jobs, investment and economic activity in BC, generating 80,000 jobs and $5.2 billion annually.
For every dollar invested in the arts, the government receives $1.38 in taxes.” Funding the arts makes economic sense.
Every time a movie is shot in BC, it not only employs local talent, there’s a spin-off economy, as the non-local folks involved eat in local restaurants, drink in bars, sleep in hotels, spend money on taxis.
And of course self-employed artists making a decent living pay taxes and spend money, and sustainable arts organizations employ local people, who also pay taxes and spend money.
I am not an economist, far from it. I can barely balance my chequebook — that is if I can find it. But even I can see the obvious logic. The arts is a growing industry. It makes sense to nurture an industry that has growth potential.
In 1995, Richard Dreyfus starred in a film called Mr Holland’s Opus about a composer who takes a job as a high school music teacher to support his wife and new baby. For 30 years, Mr Holland puts aside his dream to be a composer and teaches. Toward the end of his career, in an effort to balance the budget, the school principal cuts music, art and drama classes. He tells Mr Holland they must focus on the basics — reading, writing and arithmetic. To which Mr Holland points out that without the arts, there will be nothing for the students to read, listen to or watch.
That’s not the world I want to live in. How about you?