Culture Spending Cuts - Part One: Trade Routes and PromArt Cuts in Context

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Culture Spending Cuts – Part One: Trade Routes and PromArt Cuts in Context

While many of us were enjoying the summer, the federal government has announced a series of cuts of around $40 million to cultural programs and the elimination of others. Today, the CCA is publishing a comprehensive list of the programs that are affected by those cuts and we will be providing further information on these measures in the next few days. Today, the focus will be on the elimination of the PromArt program at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the phasing out of the Trade Routes program at the Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH).

Just the Facts

There has been a steady stream of criticism about the recently announced budget cuts to the TradeRoutes Program and PromArt program. The vast majority of newspaper, radio and television commentaries have been negative regarding these decisions.

The Department of Canadian Heritage has said that the decision to abolish TradeRoutes was based on the results of a value for money review. The program resources ($9 M) are largely consumed by the salaries and living expenses of cultural trade officers stationed across Canada and various major cities around the world. While a relatively small amount of money was actually dedicated to making grants and contribution, artists, producers and arts professionals who use their services have indicated a high degree of satisfaction with the assistance provided.

The DFAIT PromArt program ($4.7M) is also abolished without explanation, apart from the curious spin the government decided to give to the announcement. It follows the initial 2006 cuts to the program of $11.8 million over 2 years.

The often relatively small amounts granted under both programs have had a leverage effect for many artists and organizations as they sought support to develop markets abroad, contribute to our national image and lend valued support to other general trade development efforts of our missions abroad. At the time of writing, there is no clear indication that the government intends to replace these programs with more performing ones.

Tell me more

When the Hon. Sheila Copps, former Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced the TradeRoutes Program, she outlined specific outcomes that program would achieve – targets for export increases of television, film, sound recording, etc. The value for money review likely assessed actual program performance against these anticipated results as a part of the decision-making process. If that is indeed the case, it is surprising that the government did not refer to such reviews to explain its decisions.

While theTradeRoutes Program may have had some design flaws, the objective of developing international markets and audiences for Canadian cultural goods and services is an entirely worthy one consistent with the role of the federal government. With the Vancouver Whistler 2010 Olympics on the horizon, the need for a strategy to capitalize on the huge world audience for the Games both before and after the event should be apparent. Australians have noted that the lack of a follow-up strategy to their hosting the Olympics was a serious strategic error that could not be corrected.

Preoccupied with the impact of the cancellation of TradeRoutes, the CCA has invited the Chair of the Standing Committee on Heritage to call Minister Verner to provide much needed information on the reasons of the government to cancel the program and on its intentions, if any, to continue supporting the development of cultural markets abroad, as it does for almost any other sector of the Canadian economy.

The PromArt program at the DFAIT is another matter entirely. Ever since the 2006 severe cuts, rumours have persisted that the program was headed for the scrap heap. Over the past year, the CCA has been addressing the issue of public diplomacy and the role of the arts and culture sector in any national strategy. It is not a purely Canadian idea: amongst other nations, the United States and Great Britain have renewed their commitment to supporting the arts as an effective tool of public diplomacy.

Government spokespersons have mentioned groups like “Holy Fuck” and commentator Gwynne Dyer or filmmaker Avi Lewis as indications that the recipients of support from the program may not reflect well on Canada internationally.

There are two critical errors in this rationale. First of all the program is operated by public servants who make funding recommendations to senior officials and all such decisions are ultimately made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is not a case of some “wonky” peer assessment process deliberately trying to be outrageous or casting the Department in an unfavourable light. If the recipients appear controversial, it is not their fault – they did not jerry-rig the system to receive support. Secondly, it has been established that with a number of the “outrageous” examples quoted, recipients had not in fact applied for the travel grants but had responded specifically to an invitation made to them by the Department itself!

Just as unexplainable is the fact that the Department has also signaled that it will no longer contribute to the Canadian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, leaving the National Gallery and the Canada Council for the Arts to foot the bill out of their existing budgets. This international event is one of the most prestigious visual arts exhibitions in the world and Canada made a very forceful impression at the 2001 Biennale when Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller has been awarded the jury special award. Similarly SweaterLodge, a project by Pechet and Robb Studio of Vancouver, drew a lot of international attention at the 2006 Biennale. Foreign Affairs now seems to be content to leave the task of building Canada’s reputation and image abroad as a creative nation to other players who are apparently expected to make the difference out of their existing funds.

Furthermore, whatever has happened to our much-vaunted commitment to cultural diversity? The ability of Canada to demonstrate not only racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity to the world must also include creative and artistic diversity. DFAIT has always had some discomfort with the arts and with Ministers such as the Hon.Lloyd Axworthy, the Right Honourable Joe Clark and the Hon. Flora MacDonald who were champions of engaging the arts in the pursuit of foreign policy objectives.

It is clear that some serious thinking is required to facilitate the promotion of Canadian artists, creators and arts professionals on the international state. The CCA is calling upon the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to urgently address the issue of the arts and culture in foreign policy and public diplomacy.

We have too much to lose if we merely shrug our shoulders – the real value for money in these programs cannot be measured without an appreciation of how our artists, creators and arts professional enhance the image of Canada as a sophisticated, diverse and creative nation.

What Can I Do?

Please consider a letter to the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage asking them to urgently address this issue. This is clearly not a question we can afford to lie fallow.

You can also write to Prime Minister Harper, to Heritage Minister Josée Verner and to Minister of Foreign Affairs David Emerson

The CCA is also contacting the leaders of the other federal political parties to determine their position on this issue. You might also consider doing the same. If rumors are correct we are headed for a fall election – let us now ensure all political parties understand the importance and urgency of this matter.

You can also contact your MP to register your opinion, and if you are in one of the four ridings where by-elections have been called, you can ask each candidate to clearly state where they stand on the issue. Follow this link to find contact information for your MP.

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