2 min

Festival fund misguided from the get-go

A sloppy attempt to support arts & culture

It seemed to be too good to be. The rainbow flag was unfurling across the country with barely a murmur of protest. Parties and parades from Charlottetown to Victoria have been happy, queer affairs, unmarred by opposition.

Ah, but our celebrations of sodomy, Sapphic hijinx, and all manner of perversion could not continue without controversy. Suddenly the Conservative Party woke up, and realized that Pride Toronto had received funding from the federal Marquee Tourism Events Program (MTEP). Hand wringing no doubt ensued. What to do, what to do? After all, Pride Toronto had applied, was eligible for the funding, and won the award fair and square. Pride events in Toronto bring millions of dollars into the city — that’s exactly the kind of stimulus the program was aiming to assist. The only problem was the other forms stimulation that Pride inspires….

“Eureka,” Harper’s team said with characteristic, punitive joy. “We’ll make the minister of state for tourism no longer responsible for the tourism stimulus program! That’ll fix her queer-loving wagon.” Or so I imagine. Certainly this is the scenario intimated by Conservative MP Brad Trost on überconservative However the back room conversation transpired, Diane Ablonczy no longer has the MTEP in her tourism portfolio.

This seemingly ideologically-based slap isn’t the first time the MTEP has raised eyebrows. The program has been causing murmurs in the arts community since it was announced. Arguably, Harper lost his dreamed-for majority in the last election because he dared to mess with cultural funding. Québec would have none of it, and suddenly arts and culture were a major election issue. In his efforts to cling to minority power after narrowly escaping a Liberal/Bloc/NDP coalition, Harpie scrambled to look “arts friendly” by dedicating $335 million to cultural spending in the 2009 federal budget, plus an additional $100 million over two years to so-called marquee festivals.

This looks good, until one considers that, to some extent, this money was replacing arts programs previously cut by the Conservatives. The much-needed funds that once enabled Canadian artists to take their products to the world stage (such as Trade Routes and PromArt) still have not been reinstated. And new programs, like the MTEP, seem hastily conceived and sorely shortsighted.

Only large festivals were able to apply. They had mere weeks to do it. And they had to create new, extra programming with the money. The result was a national scramble that has created some exciting add-ons to festivals, but has in no way contributed to the ongoing sustainability of the organizations, nor the larger national cultural ecology as a whole.

The director of Montréal’s gay festival Divers/Cité, Suzanne Girard, has come out in support of the program. Certainly if I was directing a large festival, I might take the cash no matter what package it came in. It is hard to bite the hand that feeds, however misguided or homophobic it may be.