Sunday, March 31, 2013

Arts and Culture Grants

Michelangelo's 'David.' - Ricoh Heil

by Louis Shalako

Do arts grants subsidize people’s hobbies?

In this Huffington Post article by Peter Worthington, he asks and answers that very question.

My chief objection to arts grants, both provincial and federal, is that if a client of the Ontario Disability Support Program received a cultural grant, it would be treated as income.

I wrote then-Minister the Right Honourable Margaret Meilleur in 2006 and asked, ‘What would happen if I received a cultural grant of $12.000?’

The lady never got back to me on that one. If she couldn’t answer the question, who could?

Here’s what I think.

The province would allow them the first $100 free and clear and then claw back fifty percent from of their benefits. And she didn’t want to put that in writing. Howeer, if someone very much like Mr. Worthington were to ask the present Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services, or the Minster of Culture, and ask them that question, I'm sure they understand the issues very well indeed and would be more than happy to assist him.

It is theoretically possible to operate a business under ODSP guidelines. Publishing is a business. Writing can be a hobby or a way of life. We subsidize people's way of life all the time. Don't we, Mr. Worthington?

Here's how it works for Ontario's disabled:

One, their benefits are already thirty or thirty-five percent below the poverty line. Two, a police officer twenty-three years old and starting off at $78,000 a year can get a grant, and receive the full benefit of that grant—even though they arguably don’t need financial support to write a book, create some new artwork, or to make or study music.

A provincial arts grant, a ‘book-writing grant’ can go up to $12,000 here in Ontario. The recipient can only receive $20,000 in any two-year period. You would be applying year to year. It makes no sense to go off an approximately $12,000 a year disability pension (for a single adult with no dependents) to go on a grant which can never be anything other than temporary, for the illusory notion of living on grants. With all of the free time available to the disabled—over fifty percent of whom are unemployed at the best of times, surely they have a good chance of making it as best-selling writers. After all, any asshole can write a book these days.

I don’t have serious moral issues with a teacher, a construction worker, a single mom with two kids getting cultural grants, and for the most part, writing books that don’t sell more than five hundred copies. I don’t care if they get $2,000 to make a quilt celebrating local history that will ultimately hang in the town hall. It buys goodwill for the government that provides the support. The government taxes you, but look at all the benefits it provides to regular Canadians, ‘real’ Canadians, and real Canadian culture, too.

Does it encourage ‘art?’ In some limited sense I think it does. It probably doesn’t generate too much world class fine art, but that’s not the entire spectrum of art.

But because I can’t share in that bounty, the whole thing smacks of unfairness. It looks like discrimination.

We all accept that governments stay in power by the judicious use of patronage.

Spread it around a little—a little more. Spread some of that this way. I have no idea of how ‘professional’ writers, that is to say as defined by Mr. Worthington, those who are ‘making a living at it’ feel on this issue, but I can take a quick guess or two. Because they can’t apply either as far as I know—because they don’t need it to ‘develop’ their art.

Maybe it’s unfair competition. Maybe it takes up space on bookstore shelves that might have gone to another product. Maybe it saturates a tight market with too much unprofessional and unwanted competition.

What would be of most benefit to further advance my career, my development as an artist, and who knows, maybe even be fiscally successful enough to get me off of disability?

I don’t know, but it ain’t a cultural grant. It simply doesn’t meet my needs.

Anyway, I would like to thank Mr. Worthington for his perspicuousness.

Incidentally, I’ve written ten books without any help from grants whatsoever. You might want to have a look at them here on Smashwords.


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