Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Do “Conservatives” Hate the Arts?

“The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own” — Goethe

Here’s another question about so-called “Conservatives”… Why is it that so many of them appear to despise the arts and sneer with the utmost contempt at our culture? I realize that’s quite a sweeping generalization, but I can’t think of the number of times over the years I’ve heard something along the following lines (this particular tripe comes from BT “Hunter” who laughably claims to be “Climbing Out of the Dark… Into the Conservative Light”):

I disagree with funding any arts. They can stand or fall on their own, like any business. When my boys were little we gladly paid to go to the museum, the zoo, Fort Edmonton Park, and Heritage days, to name a few.

That is different from funding a movie, the movie industry is a huge money maker, if you can’t make money, your product is not necessary, it’s supply and demand, plain and simple. Why are the “arts” any different than any other industry? Shrills like Polley make us think they are supporting Canadian culture. Not true, we are supporting artists with our tax dollars who can’t make it on their own. Enough is enough.
What utter nonsense. While the business of art is conducted much like any other commercial venture in which something is bought, sold, or traded, a work of art is obviously not a commodity in the ordinary sense, and the laws of “supply and demand” aren’t necessarily applicable, especially in the realm of what could loosely be described as the “fine arts” where a body of works may well go largely unappreciated during an artist’s career for whatever reason, only gaining popularity and/or value much later on.

Apparently, like many “Conservatives” who get righteously indignant about funding for arts and culture, “Hunter” seems unaware of the fact that while the federal government spends approximately $3.25 billion on “culture” per year, whereas cultural industries contribute over $43 billion to the Canadian economy, or almost 4% of GDP — and that’s only the direct impacts of culture. Excluded from that are the impacts of: 1) the re-spending of expenditures of cultural organizations (i.e., indirect impacts); 2) the re-spending of wages earned by cultural workers (i.e., induced impacts); and 3) cultural attendees’ spending on hotels, restaurants and transportation associated with cultural activities (i.e., ancillary impacts). According to a recent American study, the ancillary impacts of arts attendees was about one-and-a-half times the impact of the arts organizations’ own expenditures. That’s a pretty healthy return in terms of the contribution to the economy generated by culture for the comparatively modest expenditure involved. So what’s with this “enough is enough” business?

As for individual grants, the government through the Canada Council last year awarded $19.3 million to 2,037 artists (that includes all disciplines, such as writing, music, dance, and visual arts). The amount going to visual arts can be roughly estimated at less than half that amount. According to the Arts Policy Branch of Canada Heritage, the total market for original works of Canadian visual art is approx. $410 million. Well, that’s over $20 million in GST revenue alone right there on sales of visual arts alone. So what on earth is “Hunter” complaining about, exactly, and why is this grievance such a frequent refrain of right-wing demagogues?