On Funding, Cuts, and making a living....

OK. This is coming a bit belatedly, however I really wanted to clarify my thoughts before jumping into the debate about the arts funding decision made related to the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto.

Initially, I am outraged; the idea that Heritage Canada would coincidentally stop funding the festival, one it has generously supported for five years running, the year following a production which reportedly outraged Prime Minister Harper as a play "glorifying" terrorism is a bit of a pill to swallow. Given the need for control that Mr Harper has demonstrated in so many other areas of his leadership, I find it impossible to believe that he played no role in the decision not to fund the festival.

Secondly, I am fuming at the suggestion from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that artists should not "rely on" funding from government. Sure! At the very core I agree; I wish nothing more than the ability for artists to create new and challenging works, and pay for them with ticket prices. To avoid reliance on donation, sponsorship, and grants would be a whole new realm of artistic freedom. The reality of the matter is that this is next to impossible. Even with funding, it is tough for theatre companies to make ends meet when you add up the costs of space (if you are lucky enough to own your own...or goodness knows, renting!), paying the performers for rehearsal and show times, designers, directors, set and costume construction, stagehands...the list goes on. If a company were to try to actually turn a profit solely from ticket sales, prices would skyrocket! And this is just considering non-equity performers and non-union houses. Once you factor in using an IATSE house or a cast of CAEA performers the cost of production further increases.

But this isn't anything new, nothing we didn't know before. . .

Alas, here is the challenge I pose to the government; pay fair price to the performers who you trot out on display as soon as there are foreign dignitaries, a party of some kind (Canada Day anyone?) or a reason to celebrate. Think of the extravaganza recently put together in Ottawa for Wills & Kate's visit to Canada; normally Canada Day on the Hill is quite a Fete, but this year really outshone previous efforts. Ask yourself....did the Government of Canada really pay a fair contracted price to each and every performer who stepped on that stage? I mean sure, each had an honourarium, and the "priviledge" of performing for Royalty. Great! But what was their contract? Did they get a fair, equity approved wage for the rehearsal time and performance call time? I am making an educated assumption that they did not; my sister travelled as a teen to perform in Ottawa for Canada Day. My parents paid for her travel and accomodations, and the choir she was with got an honourarium that worked out to mere dollars per performer. I doubt much has changed.

So Dear Mr Flaherty and Mr Harper; if you want to start telling artists that they shouldn't depend on grants, put your money where your mouth is and pay them fair wage for the work they do for you.