Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is consistency the hobgoblin of the
heritage ministry?*

The minister of Canadian Heritage, and by extension his department, can at least be given points for their consistency. Recently, as a result of a review process, Heritage has decided to terminate a program that supported independent performers and small scale independent music-making in favour of support for enterprises that are considered more commercially marketable.

If this sounds familiar, it is essentially the same process and outcome as has occurred in the periodicals industry; small literary, arts and cultural magazines being cut adrift if their paid circulation is less than 5,000 annually.

What's interesting is the apparent intentions of minister of Canadian Heritage, James Moore. In Saturday's Globe and Mail he said that the Canada Council had its own funding and was free to help independent artists cut adrift by the end of the $1.35 million Canadian Musical Diversity Program. (This is essentially what he said to independent magazine publishers.)

“The Canada Council has their own envelope of funding – I believe it's $9-million. If they want to spend their money in a way to help independent artists, they're free to do that,” he said....

“The envelope they were looking for was basically to fund artists who have no interest in developing any kind of commercial opportunities for their music, that's just a different approach than what we have in mind,” Moore told the CBC.

Moore said yesterday the Conservatives' philosophical inclination is toward funding artists with commercial promise, a view Prime Minister Stephen Harper has espoused. “But not entirely,” Moore added.

“It's not my view that in order for art to have merit and value to society, it has to be commercially viable,” Moore said. “I'm not at all castigating independent artists and what their hopes are for their creations. … It's about funding things that are of a higher priority for government and for the industry.”

So, to paraphrase, it's not minister Moore's view that commercial viability is synonymous with excellence, but commercial projects are all the government wants to invest in.

It's hard not to agree with Gary Cristal, a manager of independent artists (and former acting head of the Canada Council's music branch) who told the Globe:
“They were Robin Hood in reverse. They robbed the poor to give to the rich.”
(As an aside, the musical diversity program, which is being cut, was administered by the Canada Council. This doesn't augur well for the one, small hope being nurtured by small literary, art and cultural publishers -- and Magazines Canada. They have been hoping that Heritage might somehow agree to shift some of its periodical funding over to the Council -- equivalent to the $1 million SALM (Support for Arts and Literary Magazines) portion of the Canada Magazine Fund -- as part of its merger of the CMF and the Publications Assistance Program into the Canada Periodical Fund next spring.

It will do little or no good to direct small publishers, and musicians, to the Canada Council for further support if there is no further funding.)

*"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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