A recent overhaul of the national arts budget has placed a much needed emphasis on Canadian artistry, pledging $550 million in funding to the Canada Council over five years.
The Canada Council recently released a report outlining how the funding would be allocated, in increased support for project-based grants and investment in First Nations, Inuit and Métis art as well as initiation of a digital fund for the Canada Council.
The promise of more accessible grants is especially uplifting to hear at a time when getting funding seems to be a fruitless mission for many young artists.
But greater monetary support for Canadian artists from their government goes further than that. In the aftermath of the American election, even Canada’s cultural divide has become particularly palpable, even here at Queen’s. Over the past month, many Queen’s professor’s have hosted open forums to discuss everything from the election results to racism on campus.
Art has always been a means for people of diverse backgrounds to connect, and it creates an environment where inclusion and justice thrive.
In a statement earlier this month, CEO of Canada Council Simon Brault said, “we don’t invest where it is most predictable, but where it will make the most difference not only for artists and organizations, but also for Canadians.”
This fiscal promise serves a higher purpose than simply supporting artists. There’s a common notion that art isn’t necessary, that it’s a luxury, and artists are only reality-escaping experts. Brault argues that art is a fundamental coping mechanism, allowing us to better understand the world we live in.
Unsurprisingly, arts funding in Canada historically hasn’t been generous. The budget for 2015 was $180 million, and Canada’s per capita arts spending has consistently lagged behind Finland, Germany and the Netherlands, among others. The spending increases started this year with a $40 million boost, and will increase steadily over the next five years.
Trudeau’s government is paving the way for art to be recognized as an important part of society, arguably as worthy a field as many other publicly-funded practices.
Perhaps this investment is a life vest of sorts being tossed to the youth of Canada, as future leaders who have begun to despair over North America’s current political climate. Not that $550 million acts as a Band-Aid to magically heal our society, but it begins the hardier, messy work of understanding where issues lie at a human level.
People create art out of their feelings and opinions. Art is often used as a tool to express identity, to honour heritage and start conversations. These significant increases in Canadian arts funding have come at a time when those conversations are needed the most, when, in light of Canada’s history, it’s the least the government can do to begin recognizing First Nations, Inuit and Métis art.
Students across Canada, and especially here at Queen’s, could use the artistic support, not to mention the validation that comes from government investment. Students will hopefully see Canadian museums flourishing, maintenance and operating costs being addressed and more opportunities for young artists to show their work and collaborate on publicly funded projects.
The budget will play a significant role in Canada as it will forge new territory for emerging artists, while encouraging a more ingrained appreciation of arts and culture we shouldn’t take for granted.
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