Thursday, September 4, 2008

Italy cuts arts programs; a page from Canada?

Conservative minds think alike. Take Silvio Berlusconi, the once and again Prime Minister of Italy. In a cost cutting move, he's slashed €900 million -- about $1.3 billion US -- from arts programs over the next three years. The result is that museums, performing artists and theatre which contribute so much to the country's image to the world, is suffering.

No question this is partly because of the Eurocrats at EU headquarters finally cracking down on member states that frequently ignore strict deficit and inflation rules (a max 3% GDP deficit, 3% inflation, 60% debt) in order to shore up the Euro which is still very strong against the greenback. In the case of Italy, however, arts funding makes up 0.28% of the budget. Barely a quarter of one percent. It's even less than that here in Canada, and the Cons have slashed about $45 million from our arts budget; which has led the Québec arts community, normally almost completely sovereigntist, into an unusual possible alliance with the Liberals as Chantal Hébert noted last weekend.

You only have to see the attitude of the federal government when it offers a tax credit for sports equipment (puny, a mere rebate of $75) but no equivalent credit for those who want to pursue musical or artistic interests. Don't tell me a ballet or tap dancer isn't an athlete, or a musician doesn't use a considerable amount of mental gymnastics.

We've seen the trickle up effect of what happens when you cut music and arts programs from schools in favour of sports. Not that athletic achievement should be of lesser importance -- we need to deal head on with the obesity problem. But there is a direct co-relation between an interest in the arts with the ability to think and reason. Typically, the smartest people in sports as well as their spectators are those who also took an interest in visual arts, drama and/or music.

Ross Perot understood this when he was asked to investigate the Texas schools in the 1980s. He noted the low test scores for high school students whose only focus was getting an athletic scholarship. Many were even failing. So he recommended, and the state passed, the "no pass, no play" law which means exactly what it says; fail to keep up an acceptable grade point average and you will be kicked off your team. Many of those former athletes who wizened up were also artistically inclined and are now leading the state's economy in all sorts of sectors, including energy and high-tech.

It's a question of balance. Frankly, many in the arts community are just as stupid as their beer belly cousins who sit in the stands at sporting events. But my question is, why shouldn't we require both from our students? Require them to demonstrate an aptitude both in basic physical fitness as well as in one of the three media of the arts?

It may be useful to some to be able to reel off the tables in national soccer leagues, or the points standings in NASCAR. But ask them who said, "The quality of mercy is not strained," and their typical answer will be "some bleeding heart liberal." (The correct answer is Shakespeare.)

Every time someone mentions the fiasco of the National Gallery buying stupid art, such as the meat sculpture, the Jackson Pollock or the three stripe painting for a million and a half -- one counters with the fact that the minimal travel expenses that some artists file for performances off shore are returned many times in terms of taxes from royalties and residuals.

If Harper tries to make arts announcements in the coming election, then let's remind Canadians of his broken promises -- on income trusts, health care and fixed election dates. Let's remind ourselves that he's been less accountable than any other prime minister in history.

And let's remind ourselves that Harper'd rather hang out with a thug like Todd Bertuzzi than a person of grace and honour like Veronica Tennant.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

No comments: