The Sun and the Arts Funding “Debate”

Sometimes I read the Toronto Sun.  Not because I like the paper, but because I really hate it.  I think its important to know what the “other side” is saying, and to understand that there are people who actually believe what that newspaper prints.  Case in point: this article from the online version of the paper, which references an article in yesterday’s print edition.  The article outlines a complaint from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation complaining about going to the Summerworks Festival, specifically due to funds going to a play called “Homegrown”.

Homegrown is a play about one of the members of the Toronto 18, calling the play sympathetic to terrorists.  The article uses this play as a springboard for the Sun’s familiar complaint about funding for the arts, and how the funding plays is destroying the fabric of our society – ok, this article doesn’t say specifically that, but its clear that the Sun is revving up their readers to be outraged about this “abuse of public funds”.  Some choice quotes from the article:

The [Summerworks] festival receives more than $90,000 from all three levels of government including $35,000 from Heritage Canada. Homegrown received $6,000 from the city funded Toronto Arts Council for a workshop.  The play’s writer, Catherine Frid, stressed Friday that the play isn’t condoning terrorism but is a “sympathetic portrait” of one of the men caught up in the terror bust.


But Kevin Gaudet, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said tax dollars shouldn’t be going towards a “terrorist love-in”. “You want to put on a play? Fine. Hang up your shingle and ask people to pay for it … and if it has to do with sympathetic portraits of terrorists who want to destroy my country, I won’t go,” Gaudet said.

It is of course, important to note that the CTF:

objects to funding for all festivals from Pride Toronto to the Calgary Stampede, he said.“We advocate against all this type of funding in that context,” Gaudet said.

CTF is a conservative group that objects to most public funding of events. Of course, without the kind of funding they object to, there would be no Fringe Festival, no jazz festival, no TIFF, no Stratford or Shaw festivals, or really any cultural events whatsoever.  The play that CTF is “objecting to” is an excuse for the old saw about the bugaboo of the evils of public funding for the arts.

Arts funding organizations from all levels of government need to fund shows based on their merit or their relevance, rather than on their political ramifications.  This means that sometimes there will be controversial plays that are funded by the government.  But this is not a bad thing.  The arts should challenge political correctness, they should be controversial, they should spark debate.  If nothing controversial can ever receive funding because the sensitive right-wingers at the CTF (which will always be offended because public funds are involved) or the Sun might be offended, then all funded art will be safe and boring.

The article itself may be familiar territory for the Sun, the most important part of the article are the online comments.  Many of the comments are from people who are just as outraged as the Sun (and the CTF) wanted them to be.  These are the people who believe that the arts are not worth funding.  These are the people who think that artists are swimming in money, people who think like Stephen Harper does when he talked about funding cuts back in the last Federal election (“I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people,”*).  In my mind, the comments say the most.  These are the people and attitudes that artists are up “against” when election time comes, when people want to be outraged about “wasted government spending”, and how the arts are for the rich and not for “regular people” so why should we fund them?  I’d consider the comments a “must read”, at the very least, to know what those people who disagree with arts funding believe, so that those of us who recognize the importance of funding can plan our response.

*Quoted from the Toronto Star, Sept. 24, 2008

Government Funded, Public Domain

Earlier today, Jesse Brown (this week’s guest blogger on Boing Boing and host of the TVO podcast Search Engine) posted the first of his blogs: All publicly funded content should be in the public domain. In the article he says:

In Canada, movies are supported by Telefilm, TV by the Canadian Television Fund, books and art by The Canada Council for the Arts, and so on. But most of this stuff isn’t distributed very well or for very long, and you can only get your hands on a fraction of it.

So I want to put forth one more contrarian position: I think that any publicly funded content should (within, say, 5 years of its creation) be released to the public domain.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.  The truth, in fact, is that I am of two minds on the subject.

First and foremost, as a consumer of copyrighted materials (ie: reading books, watching tv shows, watching movies, listening to music), I am a firm believer that our copyright system needs a major overhaul, with looser copyright restrictions, and a thriving Public Domain (which we don’t have; when was the last time a copyrighted work fell into the Public Domain?).

To state that all government funded content should be in the public domain is a pretty bold statement, however.  All publicly funded content?  I don’t know about in other countries, but in Canada, that’s a pretty broad cross section.  Because there aren’t many aspects of the arts (which creates the content) that aren’t publicly funded.  Almost every TV show, movie,  and play are funded with government money.  Novels are written, magazines are published, music is composed.  There is not one aspect of the arts that government funding does not touch.  Does that mean that all this “content” should be in the public domain?

Maybe.  How many TV and Radio shows created by CBC have been relegated to the vaults, never to be seen again?  Why not put these shows out into the public domain so that everyone can enjoy them? How many plays are written, given a few weeks to run in a theatre, and then never seen again?  Why not make publicly funded work available in the public domain after 5 years (or maybe even, in the case of television, 5 years after the show goes off the air).

What do you think?