But do we really care?

In the toxic haze of the Olympics aftermath, we are picking up the pieces of our politics, pride and public funding. We're also trying to find a place to put our arts priorities.

A recent conference at W2 Media Arts gave a concise rundown of the problems facing BC in the wake of the Olympics occupation.

“This is a very embarrassing time to have arts cuts,” said Johnathan Middleton, President of Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference. He called it a “symbolic black eye” on the province's public face. With the intensity of the Cultural Olympiad slowly diminishing, he asked what will become of the arts culture and how can we accept such drastic cuts, currently estimated at 92%. The glaring contradiction between a provincial arts budget that rests at around 3.5 million and an Opening Ceremonies price tag of around $38 million says it all.

Amir Ali Alibhai iof the Alliance for Arts agreed, stating that “BC does not have a cultural policy ... it would be a good start.” In large urban centres there is a glut of media, visual artforms, music and theatre, so it becomes hard to understand the true societal value of a healthy artistic culture, but Alibhai pointed out that “in small communities it is very clear” exactly how these expressions support the community. “The whole issue that the arts are frill has to be addressed.”

He mentioned that BC could look at arts as an investment, since they provide a return of between $1.04 and $1.36 for each dollar spent, according to a government report. Once more, the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture Service Plans points out that the Arts and Culture sector in BC generates 80,000 jobs and $5.2 billion annually.

Greg Younging, a professor at UBC and also formerly of the BC Arts council, brought up a compelling example of how the government is misunderstanding the issues and undervaluing the roles of creative expression, especially in regards to the First Nations artists.

“Aborginal artists are just coming to the national regime right now,” he said, referring to the spectacle of dancing Natives in the Opening Ceremonies. Younging explained that in most cases, the Aboriginal artists with faces to the media and the public are high-profile, but that a “facade is created by showing individuals art without showing the reality of peoples living conditions,” such as the alleys of the Downtown Eastside and the Reservations. “You can't celebrate one aspect of the people ... without politcal and economic aspects [represented as well],” he stated.

He is calling for an end to artistic and cultural appropriation, as evidenced with the Cowichan sweaters and the Inukshuk emblem, asking for adherence to a UN initiative that aims to protect the intellectual property rights of artists, Aboriginal and otherwise.

With the Olympics over, there are plenty of new possibilities emerging for the public to reevaluate the role of arts in our collective culture. A panel discussion like this one simply points out the holes in our current models, and shows us that we are simply looking at art forms as corporate commodities, rather than as necessary components of a healthy, expressive society.

The next development may come immediately after the Olympics, while the great explosion of arts and culture that was the Cultural Olympiad is still spreading shrapnel through the minds of the public. But will it translate into policy? Will people demand an upgraded arts funding and a stronger cultural policy and priority? You decide.

//Kevin Murray

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