Monday, June 27, 2011

Arts funding arbitrariness

Despite the diplomatic reaction by a SummerWorks board member, this does seem like a predictable result given last year's Prime Ministerial public pronouncement about the content of one play put on by SummerWorks, a Toronto summer theatre festival: "Ottawa cancels funding for Toronto theatre festival that presented terrorist play." Given that the government is clearly in the business of funding arts festivals of many varieties, it's not as if there isn't funding available for such a festival. The festival had been receiving just under $50,000 per year in support, not an inordinate amount. So last year's controversy, despite denials from the ministry, can't help but factor into a perception that the defunding is connected to the criticism of that one play's content (“last year, the Department of Canadian Heritage received over 10,000 funding requests for local events and festivals across Canada. The total demand far exceeds available funding, and therefore choices must be made.”)

There is an element of arbitrariness to our arts funding execution that this SummerWorks news underscores. If we are going to support arts groups, and clearly we do, there needs to be a fair process that allows for groups to plan appropriately. Apparently SummerWorks has received the news that they can't count on this year's support just about a month before the festival begins. The process needs to have more certainty. Not in the sense that everyone is guaranteed funding, but that it needs to be less of an Academy Award moment that sees lucky winners gaining the largesse of the ministry. It appears arbitrary.

Consider as well controversies over government funding of other entities that have made news in the past year. There was the "not" added to the Kairos funding after it had been thought to have passed departmental criteria. Throw in the rejection of Toronto Pride funding after it had passed the government's criteria for funding.

Merit and defined criteria, not politics, should be the driving force behind all such decisions across government departments. Unfortunately, with this government and its track record, the perception is that that it is the politics, not merit that drive the decisions.