Wednesday, June 29, 2011

SummerWorks and the Ongoing Conservative Cultural Chill

Anyone who doubted that a Conservative majority under Stephen Harper would be anything other than benign business as usual--particularly where arts and culture are concerned--should take careful stock of the recent announcement that Canadian Heritage has, after five years of providing federal funding for the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto, rejected the Festival's most recent grant request of $47,000, representing a 20% shortfall in the organization's budget just weeks before the 2011 Festival is to open on August 5th.

Folks may recall that SummerWorks was rebuked last year by Herr Harper himself for staging Homegrown, a play that dealt--a little too sympathetically in the eyes of the Prime Minister's Office--with the friendship between playwright Catherine Frid and a member of the Toronto 18. That this year's withdrawal of funding is tied to last year's programming is abundantly clear, and such blatant ideological intervention into cultural content on the part of the government should cause all in this country significant alarm.

As Guy Dixon notes in today's Globe and Mail, the decision also has consequences beyond the chill it sends to other arts and cultural organizations dependent on federal funding. SummerWorks is an important testing ground for new theatrical work in this country, as well as a venue visited by ADs, curators, and cultural programmers at other festivals across the country looking to partner on daring and provocative productions. This could have consequences not just for what audiences get to see in Toronto, but what the rest of us don't get to see.

Then, too, we should listen carefully to what's being telegraphed by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who is quoted at the end of Dixon's piece as stating that ALL cultural groups should be on notice that they cannot necessarily depend on continued public funding from the federal government, no matter their track records in the past. Because, of course, those of us who appreciate and support arts and culture in our society are just a bunch of snobbish elites who don't vote the right way.

Prove Flaherty and the Conservatives wrong, Canada, by writing to the Prime Minister and Heritage Canada protesting their funding decision regarding SummerWorks. And, as importantly, consider donating to the Festival to help them with this year's shortfall. You can do so here.


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