Response to Heritage Minister James Moore's Advice to Arts Organizations by Chris Dupuis

At a recent meeting in Montreal, Conservative Heritage Minister James Moore told arts groups that they need to diversify their sources of funding in order to continue to exist. “It can't be just private sector, it can't be just government. We have to have a multi-pillared approach [so] that we have more economic shock absorbers to help organizations as they plan for the future,” he said.

I know it’s been said a million times already but I’m going to say it again. Giving money to arts and culture is not only about doing something that’s good for society. It makes economic sense. The cultural industry is not only responsible for a large sector of our economy but it is also a place where we could expect to see a huge amount of growth with the right investments, unlike say manufacturing, fisheries, pulp and paper, farming, and oil, all of which already receive massive government subsidies and all of which are industries which are ultimately going to decline for different reasons.

Although I don’t know that much about the internal financial workings of different arts organizations, I know a lot about the lives of individual artists and every artist I know already diversifies their sources of income. They get some money from government grants, some from exhibition and performance fees, and if they are lucky maybe they win the occasional award that comes with a cash prize. There is also an excellent means of diversifying your income that most artists already use that I think the Honourable Minister may be unaware of. It’s called “having a job”.

Every single artist I know works either full-time, part-time, or on a contract basis in order to support their artistic practice. We do this normally, not because we love slinging drinks or answering phones, but because without this extra income it would be impossible to do what we do. In many cases this extra money isn’t just about making ends meet. It is directly invested back into the artist’s work in the form of space and equipment rentals, supplies, self-promotion, fees for other artists and technical people, and artist development. All of it goes back into the economy and when you factor all of that in it’s responsible for a pretty sizable chunk of our GDP.

I would be curious to know if the Honourable Minister would be inclined to suggest that other industries that receive government subsidies should “diversify”. Should the manufacturing sector “diversify” its sources of revenue in order to stay afloat? What fisheries? How about farmers? Better yet, all of these industries could simply cut the wages of their workers and they could keep doing the same amount of work for less money and pick up part-time jobs so that they could afford to live. They government could cut the subsidies that they give to those industries and give the money saved back to taxpayers. Would that be a good idea Honourable Minister?

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Minister’s words are about giving the cultural sector guidance on how to survive challenging economic times. I find it impossible to believe that a government that is so focused on saving every penny possible has no idea of the amount of money that the cultural sector is responsible for contributing to the economy or its massive potential for growth.
This is about the fact that Conservatives (that’s members of the Conservative Party as well as citizens who subscribe to a Conservative ideology) do not generally like the arts because they are often critical of Conservative values and ideas. Cutting money to arts groups is not about saving cash. It’s about restricting freedom of speech, or more specifically restricting freedom of speech that goes against Conservative values.

Nobody has ever told me that it’s be easy to be an artist or that it’s a good way to make money. I took on this career with full knowledge of all of its challenges and complications and despite having periodic fantasies of giving it up and getting a “real job” as my grandfather is inclined to advise me to do, I believe in the importance of what I do and I want to keep doing it as long as I can. To have a Cabinet Minister imply that those working in my profession are somehow not working hard enough to ensure our financial futures as a guise for telling us that he doesn’t share our politics and therefore doesn’t want to give us money to support those politics is beyond insulting. It goes against everything that Canadians, both Liberals and Conservatives stand for.

Chris Dupuis is a Toronto-based artist and writer. Learn more at


SHOP Program said...

Hey Chris,

Great post.

I would go one step further becausee "arts are valuable for their economic impact" argument is vague and can be adopted by anyone of any political stripe, which is what makes the whole Richard Florida perspective so nefarious. No matter what you believe or are trying to achieve you can meld it to your purposes.

Check out this link where Moore criticizes the BC Arts Cuts because they will be bad for the economy:

Where I completely with you is that for this government, the arts are perceived as very dangerous: they represent a way for a message to get out that they don't control, and that message is integrally tied to a society that they don't want to be a part of or help build.

It is a society that has amongst many other things: civil rights, equality, environmental reform, affordable housing, progressive taxation and yes, a healthy arts sector. They know at the end of the day that's what we're up to and they are threatened by it.

This is the real reason they would like to see more corporate control of arts. Its much easier and simpler for businesses not to fund works that do not conform to the status quo- there are no arms length juries to strip money from, or awkward questions about why projects in "a certain party's" riding got funding. Scotiabank just says: no.

Anyways, thanks for the post - musta got me riled up as I have not finished my coffee yet.


Alex James said...

Outstanding work Chris. Your prose is eloquent and professional but maintains an edge a lot of similarly-themed blogs seem to lack. You make well-researched, well-worded points and I think this is something more people need to read. Would you be opposed to me reposting the link to this article elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

I hear what you're saying, but I don't understand your connection to Minister Moore's quote. Diversifying funding doesn't imply that less funding is being received. It just means, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket".

I've worked in the arts for a number of years, in a fairly prominent charitable company. When the shitty economy hit, a number of projects were cancelled because they relied heavily on "banks". Not through direct investments, but through anticipated income from foundations, investments, individual donors (who donate based on a percentage breakdown of their personal investments for tax reasons), etc. Luckily our government funding was not reduced.

When organizations have over 40% of their budgets working from "fundraised" money, rather than "earned" revenue, they aren't maintaining control over their operating budget - basically, they are leaving it up to chance and expectation. When something major changes in the economic landscape... the "donor" owes you nothing, and there's not anyone to lobby to (while with the government...).

Now what does scare me from the statement is the idea of diversifying where arts & culture stands. Did anyone else notice that when the ministers all shuffled around that the culture (provincially) was paired with tourism? Is culture going to assimilate into another industry for the sake of government funding? Is the government planning to remove the arts budget by paying for 10 big budget festivals, and then paying "artists" through tourism events and parades that are run through corporate structures (requirements for reporting, etc with tourism figures) CONSPIRACY ! haha ... ha?