Harper arts cuts spark controversy at college

5 12 2008

Kara Bertrand
Design Editor, The Daily Planet
Published: October 3, 2008

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In the midst of economic turmoil and a federal election on both sides of the border, even cultural and artistic matters are being brought to the fore by political leaders.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced a $45 million tax cut on the arts communities across Canada. Theatre professionals in Toronto say they saw this coming.

“It’s interesting because we’ve seen a change in the landscape around us and we kind of knew that this was starting to happen,” said Diana Belshaw, head of acting in the theatre performance program at Humber. “Not the specifics, but that the world is no longer as easy a place to earn a living.”

She said the theatre program at the Lakeshore Campus shifted six years ago to train students to create and produce their own work. This highlighted a community base for all productions. Belshaw said the arts cuts won’t be a large issue for Humber students at this point in their careers.

“Clearly when they reach a certain level in their careers it becomes huge because at a certain point it would be nice to make a decent living,” she said.

Belshaw recalled an example of a production called Goodness about genocide put on by a theatre company named Volcano. They were invited to Rwanda for a performance, but she said the Canadian government refused to fund the trip.

“It’s a very successful company and has toured internationally before, so to have that company turned down was just kind of a shock to everyone,” she said.

John Bourgeois, program co-ordinator of the acting for film and TV program also at Lakeshore Campus, pointed to a similar situation within the Canadian TV industry.

He cited the CBC series MVP, The Secret Life of Hockey Wives, “a home grown TV series the New Yorker magazine hailed as fresh and original. Had the show been supported at the federal level, it would still be on the air, telling our stories with our artists,” he said.

Bourgeois said he feared a film and TV industry without Canadian content.

“There will be fewer – if that’s possible – Canadian stories on our screens, fewer actors, writers, directors working to tell our own stories and fewer producers willing to take the risk of funding a Canadian story,” he said.

Belshaw said arts cuts are no new thing and something that happened under the Mike Harris government.

“That really made it very difficult for theatre for young audiences which were going into schools and touring,” she said. “And they’re fundamental to the artistic life of the province. But, I don’t think we’ve seen cuts like this before.”

Belshaw said when she started out in the theatre industry in the early 70s, the liberal government at the time gave out LIP grants, “local initiative project grants, which were used by little companies to start out.” She said there was a great deal of what was called ‘seed money’ at the time, but now that has disappeared.

In a time of election, both Belshaw and Bourgeois said voting for a candidate who supports the arts is the only way to reverse the cuts that are happening.

“Canadians must elect responsible governments that will address the cultural needs of all Canadians,” said Bourgeois.