1812 overtures from the Cons
Following last summer’s squabble over SummerWorks, Heritage Canada and the play Homegrown, which may or may not have had something to do with terrorists, a lot of artists were quick to attack the Conservatives for being anti-art. In the last few weeks, the Conservatives have been quick to clarify their position: they’re avid supporters of art, provided you make it on their terms.
To illustrate their point, the government recently created the War of 1812 Commemoration Fund, an initiative to honour the 200th anniversary of the appearance of the Napoleonic Wars on North American soil. From now until 2014, the Department of Canadian Heritage has been authorized to fund projects that “foster greater awareness and understanding among Canadians of the importance of the War of 1812 in our history.” These projects can include commemorative events, documentaries, websites and theatrical performances. All totalled, there’s about $30 million up for grabs - provided you choose to accept the hypothesis that the War of 1812 was a defining moment in the history of our nation.
So if you have a project that celebrates the 25th anniversary of NAFTA, the Department of Heritage might give you extra points.
Not long after, the Globe and Mail reported that Heritage Minister James Moore has made it his mission to educate Canadians about their past. The Department of Canadian Heritage has “been instructed to pay special attention to qualified applicants with plans to promote history.” So if you have a project that celebrates the 25th anniversary of NAFTA, the Department of Heritage might give you extra points.
The real question, of course, is what happens when you have a project that condemns NAFTA for killing jobs or your angle on the War of 1812 was different than the government’s. The answer seems self-explanatory, especially given the Harper government’s reaction to the controversy surrounding the play Homegrown at Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival. Here was a play whose politics were something that Conservatives openly condemned, leading them to question why it had received federal funding. Then, in July, Summerworks was denied funding from Canadian Heritage. The message is clear. Toe the party line and there’s money to be had; go against it, and you might find your application for funding to be unsuccessful.
...it’s an open door policy for one-sided revisionist history.
If the War of 1812 Commemoration Fund sounds like an open door policy for one-sided, revisionist history, that’s probably because it’s an open door policy for one-sided revisionist history. It’s also the clearest indication we’ve had yet regarding the future of funding for Canadian artists.
The Stratford Festival has already sensed which way the wind is blowing: a press release from August 17 announced they were adding Michael Hollingsworth’s The War of 1812 to their 2012 season, specifically to “commemorate the bicentennial” of the war. Anyone who doesn’t recognize this as a cash grab is naïve at best: Stratford has seen a way to squeeze more federal funding out of the Harper government and in running towards it, they are playing directly into the Conservative’s hands.
Cultural events that discuss Canadian heritage are desperately needed in this country...
It’s foolish to expect any government to blindly fund the creation of culture. The Conservatives have made it clear that they want our culture to move in a specific direction (in this case, a jingoistic one). Anyone who wants us to go down a different road will have to pay for the trip themselves
This is the most stark example of the most problematic aspect of an artistic culture that relies so heavily on federal funds. It’s also the strongest reason why Canadian artists simply cannot continue to rely entirely on the federal government to foot their bills. Cultural events that discuss Canadian heritage are desperately needed in this country – but they need to promote all viewpoints or it’s little more than government funded propaganda. As long as this policy is in place, the Conservatives will be able to focus Canadian culture to reflect what they want it to be.