Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bravo, Canadian Arts Community

Way to justify all that public arts funding

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his attention to cut arts funding from Canada's budget during the 2008 election, his Conservative Party took what was actually a well-deserved dip in the polls.

Frequently a target of conservative thinkers, public arts funding provides a vital life line to cultural works that help develop and promote Canadian culture and identity.

But to say that governments of varying levels have a role in financially supporting arts isn't to say that arts and culture should be funded indiscriminately. The funding being indirectly extended to Homegrown, a terrorist-sympathizing play about Toronto 18 terrorist Shareef Abdelhaleem stands as a stark example of something that should not have been funded.

According to Catherine Frid, the producer of the play, Homegrown isn't actually a terrorist-sympathizing work.

Homegrown does not promote, sanction or excuse terrorism," Frid insists. "It looks at one of the men convicted of terrorism and points out some of the many irregularities in the Canadian criminal justice system that led to his conviction"

"He wasn't planning to blow up Bay and Front Street with a truck bomb," Frid continues. "People don't know the whole story behind Shareef's conviction. I'm not speaking for all the Toronto 18, I'm just focusing on the one person I met and whose case I followed and I'm telling that story."

The problem for Frid is that her assessment doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

When Abdelhaleem was convicted, his defence counsel called no evidence regarding his guilt or innocence, and instead merely tried to argue that he was entrapped. in a subsequent ruling, it was ruled that Abdelhaleem was not entrapped.

The only means by which funding of a particular project can be justified is that it embodies Canadian culture, or promotes Canadian values.

All too often, "Canadian values" are passed off by the far left as a canard. In fact, there are very few values -- conservative or left-wing -- that could be definitively described as Canadian.

But there are some values that definitively are not, and sympathy for terrorism is one of those.

Even as the controversy builds surrounding this play, politicians are already beginning to demonstrate who gets it, and who just doesn't.

In the category of those who don't get it is Toronto City Councillor Adam Vaughn, who insists that government has no place deciding what art is or isn't exhibited.

Which isn't at all what this story is about. Very few people are suggesting that play such as the one Frid is producing shouldn't be exhibited publicly at all. (Some individuals are, and these notions actually are misguided.)

The issue is about what kinds of productions public funds should support.

Toronto City Councillor -- and member of the Toronto Arts Council -- Norm Kelly does get it.

"There is freedom of expression but there is nothing that says there should be freedom of investment," Kelly insists. "Art plays a number of roles in society... but [this play] would be going too far. If the court was correct in its assessment of their intent, I don't see much artistic merit in that portrayal."

Likewise -- as is so often the case -- the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Kevin Gaudet gets it as well.

“You want to put on a play? Fine. Hang up your shingle and ask people to pay for it," Gaudet said. "If it has to do with sympathetic portraits of terrorists who want to destroy my country, I won’t go."

A great many Canadians won't bother to go see such a play. A steep financial loss incurred by an empty theatre would serve as a stark lesson for individuals such as Frid about how far Canadians are prepared to sympathize with terrorists, home-grown or otherwise.

The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation opposes any and all funding of cultural festivals. In this, they are in error. But in opposing any form of public funding whatsoever for Homegrown, they are right on the money.

Homegrown should not receive a red cent of public funding in support of it. If Catherine Frid cannot provide or secure the money to produce it, it simply doesn't deserve to be made.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Blazing Cat Fur - "Your Taxes Really are 'Play Money'"

Alan Adamson - "Arts Subsidies"

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