With the provincial budget handed down last week and close to $2 billion cut across the board save for healthcare, the arts certainly took their lumps with placated shrugs.
"At least it's not as bad as BC" has been the general attitude, referring to British Columbia's absolutely devastating cuts to their arts funding this past fall, with organizations losing up to 90 percent of their funding and many long-standing companies, galleries and theatres scrambling, or simply closing their doors.
That's great, we're not as bad off as BC, but we're not far off. With significant cuts made into our precarious provincial lottery fund and community investment programs, which are the backbone to funding agencies such as the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, which provides direct funds to arts organizations and artists, we here in Alberta may not be feeling the burn of the scalding cuts, but we are sitting in an increasingly hotter caldron of water.
Now it isn't necessarily the cuts themselves that are so shocking or appalling, but I do take offense at the language used in presenting the cuts as nothing short of a condescending pat on the head and a slap in the face.
Alberta's culture minister, Lindsay Blackett, referring to a drop of $35 million dollars—approximately a 16 percent decrease from last year's budget—to his arts sector as a "haircut" and "a time to focus on needs versus wants," is paralleling his department's commitment to the arts as a cosmetic downgrade. But when was the last time a haircut amounted to losing over 15 percent of your body mass? Losing 16 percent is closer to getting your arm chopped off, not your bangs. If we are to use this inane analogy, hair also grows back, so long as it's attached to a healthy living being, which in the case of the arts in Alberta, may soon be suffering from severe cases of malnutrition.
In a formal letter sent out through the AFA news wire, Blackett refers to how instead of cutting $35 million we're only really losing $5 million, because the government is committed to providing $30 million dollars worth of one-time capital grants, which is a complete oxymoron to his next point of "finding new and innovative ways to build sustainable cultural and non-profit sector organizations." Because afterall, "The Spirit of Alberta, continues."
We wouldn't need to rely on exhausted buzz words like "innovative" and "sustainable" and the weak hype of a "Spirit of Alberta" if the Tories had actually maintained and preserved our heritage fund to allow oil and gas revenues to be reinvested for times like these.
But rather than invest in the long-term health of this province in any possible way, the Tories are in reactionary mode, plugging money into healthcare to brace for the impending boomer bulge in the system, while ministers like Blackett are chalking up the budget to our "current economic realities," which is strange since we are projected to still generate billions in tar sands revenue in the coming years without putting a dime of it back into the heritage fund. What's worse: Blackett still has the audacity to refer to the cuts as some generous deed done in the name of providing services and supports to "the most vulnerable in our society."
Excuse me, but isn't it the government's legal obligation to protect our society's most vulnerable? Who is this group of vulnerables, as very visible cuts were also made to the province's developmentally disabled. I have written before that it is simply unfair to compare the worth and value of arts and culture to education and healthcare, as they are intricately more intertwined than how our culture discretely measures them, but to excuse the cuts onto "our society's most vulnerable" is an atrocity on all of our fiscal, social and democratic values.
*First published in Vue Weekly