Behind the Scenes
By ANN ROSENBERG
A thousand cuts won't kill the arts,
A thousand cuts won't bring death to the arts, but small cuts, are extremely irritating.
In an article in the August 14 issue of Toronto's Globe and Mail, James Bradshaw reported Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement on the Government's website that the Conservatives would no longer fund The Canada Council's $4.7 million PromArt and several other programs. Some three weeks later on September 7, Harper dissolved Parliament.
Even before Governor General Michaëlle Jean approved the October 14 date for the federal election, the cuts cited above brought criticism from the leaders of Canada's other major political parties and from arts groups and individuals, particularly in Québec. There was such an outcry that by October 3, the manitobamusic.com/blog site stated that Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner indicated that the Conservatives would look into revising the PromArt program by March 2009. In the CBC's At Issue panel's sober post-mortem of the federal election, Chantal Hébert implied that the PromArt fiasco was an important factor in the Conservative Party's loss of seats in Québec.
Despite the global economic crisis that became the all-consuming focus of the latter part of the election campaign, the $4.7 PromArt budget cut (which is substantial) did bring attention to the fragility of arts funding in this country. I am at least as concerned, however, about the bloodless snip that was delivered on April Fools' Day this year.
On April 1, the Canada Exhibition Transportation Service (ETS) that had serviced museums and public art galleries and had operated in a cost-effective manner under the aegis of the Canadian Conservation Institute within the Department of Canadian Heritage for 30 years, took its last breath. If elected, Elizabeth May or another Green MP might have helped to resuscitate it.
The Green Party was the only major political party in the recent election to express a concern for cross-country amenities. In "Looking Forward: a fresh perspective on Canada's future" one of its stated goals was to invest in "public facilities and services the things that link us across our vast geography".
Why do I care about the ETS? Like many Canadians I have an on-the-ground experience of this country's breadth. In 1963, I took the five-day train journey from Vancouver to Ottawa only to realize that it would require a few days more to reach the Atlantic Ocean. Recently, I curated a travelling show at a public gallery in Courtenay on Vancouver Island and discovered that to ship one 8 x 4 x 2 foot crate from Vancouver cost $700. Perhaps I could have utilized the ETS at a percentage of the cost.
The discontinuation of the ETS will make it difficult for artists to achieve national profiles because galleries lack the funds to circulate their works to even remote places in this country. Works shipped by ETS travelled in smooth-riding, climate-controlled trucks with a driver and an extra person to assist with the professional handling of sometimes fragile pieces of art. The ETS set the standard for the commercial services rendered by Denbigh Design and PACART. These businesses charge considerably more and are in any case unlikely to want to ship art from Vancouver, BC to Churchill, Manitoba.
According to a Canadian Conservation Institute bulletin (updated on April 24) the ETS, which has been described elsewhere as a cost-effective enterprise, was "shut down on March 31, 2008 for operational reasons". It is well known that no affordable contracts could be negotiated with the unions whose members CCI must currently employ.
NEXT ISSUE: Shipping art is fraught with peril.
Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.