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Critics worried Olympic artists will be censored

Cultural Olympiad contracts raise concern

Only weeks after Victoria was touting the 2010 Winter Games Cultural Olympiad as a showcase for the province’s artistic community in the wake of arts funding cuts, civil liberties groups are asking Olympic organizers (VANOC) to remove what they’re calling propaganda clauses from artists contracts.

VANOC maintains the clause is about respect for those who are funding the contracts.

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) says a clause in the artist contracts requires them to “refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.”

BCCLA president Rob Holmes says the government is trying to silence artists.

“If VANOC were a purely private corporation, one could understand these kinds of provisions,” Holmes says. “But VANOC gets a large amount of government funding, government appoints 11 of the 20 members of the board, and government directs the business plan of VANOC.”

Gay Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert says artists having to abide by restrictive clauses and face monitoring and possibly censoring in order to obtain scarce government funding is a cause for concern.

He says he will be raising the issue with Minister of State for the Olympics Mary McNeil, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-False Creek.

Holmes is calling on VANOC to say it will not rely on the clause and that artists have the right to speak their minds on any issues — including Olympic-related ones.

“Critique is one of the key roles of art. Art without free speech is simply propaganda.”

Cultural Olympiad is billed as a showcase for Canadian and international talent before, during and after the Games.

VANOC vice-president of culture and celebrations Burke Taylor says artists chosen to participate in Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad are encouraged to make bold artistic statements.

“We have always made room for critical discourse, intelligent debate and informed discussion within the selected works.”

But, he adds, the clause in the artist agreement “is about respect and how the selected artists relate to the Cultural Olympiad funding partners.”

The Cultural Olympiad is budgeted at $20 million.

In October, Taylor said almost every one of the groups involved in the Cultural Olympiad has received past government funding. He called the showcase “the best case we could make for continued funding in the arts.”