What is Canadian culture? Who defines it? Those questions, although they may be unanswerable, are still worth discussing. No country’s culture can be easily summed up or explained but governments at all levels are very much interested in promoting it. What “it” is, is more difficult to pin down than the second question of who gets to define it.
In Canada, the answer to the second question is to a great extent government. Billions of dollars are poured from government coffers into the arts industry for the CBC, the Canada Council For The Arts, the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada. Tax subsidies for the arts extend to the provincial level as well. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is one such example. The City of Winnipeg is also doling out your dough in the name of culture. Mayor Brian Bowman was elected in part on a promise to double arts funding at the city level. The Inuit art display at the WAG is a beneficiary of this largesse.
This is all very nice and feels good but is it really appropriate? One of the arguments in favour or public funding of the arts is the economic case which claims “Look at the jobs we’re creating.” This is as feeble as Bombardier claiming it creates jobs. All we’re doing is taking money from one area of the economy and moving it to another. Nothing is truly being created.
As for maintaining Canadian culture, this is where it gets difficult to pin down. One viewpoint says that if all of this was truly Canadian culture, there wold be no need to subsidize it. Canadians would actually be paying for it willingly. The fact that movies, TV shows, magazines and music all seem to need your tax money is a sign to some that what we’re peddling really isn’t Canadian culture at all except that somebody on an arts council somewhere has decided on your behalf that it is.
Another view says we have a small population and are in competition with the pop culture behemoth to the south and if we don’t prop up our arts community, the Yankee hordes will overwhelm us. There’s something to be said for that argument but then again, if that’s what Canadians want, why is it up to the Canada Council For The Arts to tell them they should want something different?
The federal government under new Heritage Minister Melanie Joly plans to overhaul our nation’s cultural policies. You can bet that’s going to mean more tax money. After all, people who play music, write books, paint, sculpt and make movies and TV shows have something more in common than an artistic bent. They all vote.