Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.

Category: arts funding cuts

Canada Prize Image

by Michael Wheeler

Last winter the Canadian cultural community was shocked to learn the only new cultural funding of the big “2009 stimulus budget” would be an international $25 million Nobel Prize of The Arts/ competitive arts festival with qualifying rounds where the grand winner in each category would perform at Luminato. Soon after, it was revealed that falsified documentation about who’d been consulted was used to pitch the prize to the government. (Exactly how did that process work?) At the same time voices in Quebec were becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the Toronto-centric Anglo bias to the project, and many other voices nationally in the cultural sector began speaking out against cutting domestic funding in tandem with creating a large international award. Soon after, the initiative was classified as “under review” and no one ever heard about it again.

Well guess what? It’s back.

Minister James Moore announced yesterday that The Canada Prizes will happen, are no longer connected to Luminato, and will be administered by The Canada Council. There is a five-member Advisory Panel that will do some super-fast, but extensive consultations with “key figures in the arts and culture sector” before advising the Minister on the best way to set the thing up by the end of the summer. For anyone unlucky enough to be considered “not-key”, you can contribute your thoughts through an online form available for just 17 days at this link on the Canadian Heritage Website.

It’s hard to have a single opinion about all this: In some ways putting this cash in the hands of The Canada Council is the best, smartest, depoliticized way to distribute arts funding. So fundamentally I’m not sure that the specifics of the award will be all that controversial as long as it is distributed by an arms-length jury. The crazy part about this whole process, and the media coverage of it so far, is the lack of attention to whether the prize is a good idea to begin with.

The stated goal in the Ministry’s press release is to “brand Canada as a centre of excellence”. Which is a good idea – except for one thing – after we’re branded as excellent, we will have to create things that are excellent. Things aren’t looking so hot on that end – between the policies of current Federal and Provincial governments and the economic crisis – actual monies for art going to artists is way down.  Farewell DFAIT, Trade Routes, PromArt, small magazines, endowments, and BC artists. Bonjour a huge amount of money to an artist at the top of his or her career and the administrative and production costs of a massive international ceremony.

So more than anything this just seems like putting the cart before the horse. We would like to be branded as excellent, we would like to be perceived as excellent, but we are going to reduce the funds that would lead to excellence. (We will however throw you a big party if you ever get there.) It is a common approach to Canadian cultural funding these days that is a lot like encrusting the tip of a melting iceberg with gold. It should also probably be noted that it creates an inverse relationship between the creation of art and “fancy galas“.

Since the majority-that-almost-was in 2008, the Conservative government has been looking for ways to appear pro-culture while not actually funding any of the art or artists that contributed to their unrealized ambitions. This prize fits firmly in this category of things that will allow the government to say that arts funding is “up” while continuing to decrease the amount that is actually allocated to culture, either directly through grants to artists or indirectly by subsidizing rehearsal, performance space, equipment, travel costs, etc.


Ironically, when the Minister of Official Languages and Canadian Heritage re-announced the prize yesterday, he received extensive coverage in the media – for something seemingly unrelated: In a hockey-induced fit of pride over the weekend he’d twittered the Vancouver Canucks were “Canada’s team in the playoffs”, seemingly unaware that many Canadians consider Quebec a part of Canada. (And all of a sudden we got a glimpse of how they could just forget to put French in the opening ceremonies of a Canadian Olympic games.) In an article in today’s The Globe and Mail he remains unrepentant and stands by his tweet and seems unabashed by the notion that Tweets Have Consequences.

So here we are right back where we started eighteen months ago, except everyone’s a little more hurt and a little more bitter: Anglophone artists are increasingly starved for support, francophone artists are armed with multiple instances of the government trying to exclude Quebec from the definition of Canadian culture, and a hostile government is inventing new and interesting ways not to fund the ecosystem that creates Canadian culture in both official languages. I am going to be so relieved to talk about this era in the past-tense.

If you want to read THE OLD Canada Prizes outline – the one that no one wants to talk about anymore – click here. It seems only fair that interested citizens wishing to provide feedback to the government have (unredacted) access to the documents used to create and approve the initiative.

February 26, 2010, by
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Editor’s Note:

We received the info below from our friends at and are happy to repost here.

Note the event will be moderated by Variation on Theatre #7 and Theatre Why Not Artistic Director Ravi Jain. Note that those involved in the budget process are likely sizing up this whole situation to see how much trouble it’s going to be to just sweep this under the rug. Note that if you show up you will play a small part in contributing to that assessment. Finally, please note how well the colours of the invite work with the rest of this website!


The billboard tax has been passed but zero new money has been invested in beautifying or democratizing access to public spaces with art in the 2010 Budget. This goes against highly favourable public opinion polls by EKOS (2009) Environics (2007) and Pollara (2005) and a 4500 person petition, 60 endorsements by organizations and reams of city plans to build a successful Toronto for the long-term. Along with the Mayor, city councillors from across the political spectrum have also been very supportive of a billboard tax to fund art in committee, council and the press. Similarly, public consultations, staff and consultant’s reports stated that the purpose of the tax was to support arts and city beautification projects.

We are not really sure what happened, however the budget has not passed yet. It’s time to get a bit pissed — then get smart and help correct this mistake by coming to the town hall. It worked to get the tax. It might just work to take it back!

Join / Invite / Spread the word via Facebook Page:






** Please forward and spread the word. See you on Monday! **

February 22, 2010, by

KD Lang sure did Own The Podium with her rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujiah

k.d. Lang sure did Own The Podium with her rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

Does the possibility of Toronto City Council abandoning the Beautiful City initiative, the 93% cuts to BC culture concurrent with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and the coming 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto mean bad news for Torontoians who value art and culture?

by Adriana Alarcón

The art sector envisioned a Billboard Tax that would reclaim the public visual landscape and allow the public to participate in painting the picture, so to speak. But the community will receive ZERO dollars from the new tax for art programs. The Staff Recommended 2010 Operating Budget simply avoids a general 5% decrease in funding to the arts. Topics like downloading pressure from Provincial government on city services; decreases in funding to other city programs; have risen past the need to allocate revenues from the Billboard Tax directly towards funding for the art sector. Pro-art councillor Gord Perks was a strong supporter of the Billboard Tax and pro dedicating the funds to the arts. Recently, however, an email communication suggests that it’s the general idea of ear-marking dollars which he finds problematic. “I do not support dedicating the tax revenue to a specific program” he stated.

Local artists had hoped the City would work to acknowledge the contribution from the arts sector in generating an estimated $10.4-million per year. Old fears are resurfacing as artists see the 90% decrease in funding to arts and culture by the same province that is hosting the world’s premier athletes and start to shudder. Starving artist stereotypes aside, I am quite sure that many essential, arts-service organizations, independent theatre companies and young collectives would make the most out of every penny from these new coffers. With that appreciation, I fear most that a sum like $10.4-million is one that is too easily swallowed up by mega productions of international, amateur sporting events like the Pan Am Games, which are coming to town in 2015.

The Toronto arts sector must look west to the role of arts and culture at the Olympic Games and work hard to build on the momentum started by the BCBF and Department of Culture. In British Columbia we can witness high profile Hollywood names with Canadian links in tourism commercials. MTV is broadcasting live performances held nightly at Whistler and Vancouver medal ceremonies. Yet funding to the arts in BC has decreased dramatically in recent years – by 90% last year. Let us also remember that after arts-funding was cut severely at the Federal level in 2008, Prime Minister Harper poured that money into the Olympic Torch Run, which was more evidently sponsored by Coca-Cola than by the Government of Canada, in my opinion. Could Toronto be the next to see culture budget slashing followed by limitless spending on Games preparations?

It’s not all down with art and on with brawn. Artists can look forward to opportunities in the Opening Ceremonies and in large scale concert, performance and exhibition series that are to be expected in four years to celebrate the Pan Am Games. Artists play a vital role in interpreting and communicating Canadian values, in making sense of the complexity that is the collective Canadian identity. After this week, we must note that VANOC tapped into our gifts to elevate theirs. However, it is especially important now, to ensure the City of Toronto meets their moral obligation to acknowledge the work by the many individuals who supported the Billboard tax. It is timely to make a positive impact on our industry and to continue the beautification of the cityscape.

Rob Ford was the only councillor during the Billboard Tax debate to explicitly suggest the new stream revenue wouldn’t go to culture.

It’s also not about artists turning on athletes. My fear is about seeing one sector have its expectations and deadlines met by all means available while the other is perennially tucked behind road work and social programs, despite the dedication shown by the Visual Art sector on the Beautiful City campaign. The Provincial and Federal governments have pledged to support the infrastructure projects required to bring the 2015 Games home. Soon the focus will be diverted towards new housing projects and revitalization of the waterfront, again. Toronto will undoubtedly play the multicultural card in it’s touting of the city around the Western Hemisphere and generating sponsorship opportunities. Sporting events are highly profitable marketing opportunities – in the long run. In the short run, they will cost the City a lot more than $10M per year. Without supporting or protesting the Games, Billboard Tax dollars should be thought of with sights on the future of the industry that made that money available.

Artists bring their own fan base, they further increase the hype level of the adrenaline charged environment, and they open new markets. They provide a means to entertain the masses. This is essential for games organizers since the actual sporting events are too expensive or somehow elusive to the local market. Also key for a successful Olympiad is leaving the host city with a sense of pride and some good memories. Having volunteered and worked at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg in 1999, I can point to the Games as the time when I saw Burton Cummings perform live at the Closing ceremonies by request of Manitoba’s Premier, which then led to a Guess Who reunion tour. Personally, I’m not hoping for a Rush reunion. My hope is that given the rise of Hip Hop in Latin America as well as Toronto’s connections to recent success stories; a sensational, summer concert line-up could be expected from July 10 to July 26, 2015.

What about the local scene? What about young rappers, slam poets and performers that could be engaged in the dialogue between games attendees and ‘real’ Torontonians? How about continuing to support the budding stars that can one day do their part in promoting the Canadian profile in the world stage? What about nurturing and incubating the masterpieces of the future?

Let’s hope that Toronto artists are not asked to bear the burden of the cost of the Pan Am Games. Let’s hope that artists are asked to wear our costumes and stage make-up for 17 days – but not at our own expense – especially after our creative thinking opened a new source of income for the City of Toronto.

Adriana Alarcón lives in Toronto. Her art practice includes various fields such as writing, music, design and visual arts.

February 1, 2010, by
1 comment

grants cartoon

Further to the discussion on the previous post, and this one, and this one too.

January 20, 2010, by

British Columbia still faces 92% cuts to provincial arts funding.

Click here to see the list of prominent British Columbians and Canadians that have spoken out against the BC arts cuts.

October 28, 2009, by
1 comment

grey square

BC artists have been busy organizing since provincial government announced draconian 90% cuts to arts funding in their recent budget. Much of the action has centered around the theme of a grey square, which through repetition has gained a significant amount of traction as a meme in the media.

Today in Vancouver this theme will be taken to the next level with The Grey Relay. More specific instructions have been provided to confirmed participants, but the general jist provided on the event’s Facebook Page is this:

*** The Grey Square Grand Plan ***

A minimum of 16 people, dressed in GREY, walk single file SILENTLY and make a grey square SILENTLY on a city corner.
Someone in that group will be designated timekeeper.
After 15 minutes, led by the timekeeper, they walk single file to another city corner and make another square.
This goes on all day, all around the city.
People can be funneled in and out once the route and times are ascertained.

We need: people to form grey squares; volunteers to hand out leaflets; volunteers for communication and organization tasks.

This is not a protest. This is about art and artists taking their space.”

September 8, 2009, by

exploding light bulb
Image by Laszlo under a Creative Commons 2.0 license

by Michael Wheeler

Wow, Theatre Skam wasn’t joking when they predicted back in March that the government cuts to culture would cause A Total Eclipse of The Arts

The recent BC budget called for a 90% cut to arts and culture, while most industries averaged out at 7% cutbacks: From $47.8 million in 2008/09 to $3.75 million in 2010/11. It is not hyperbolic to refer to this as utterly devastating. Within a year, many organizations will cease to exist. Looming over this “arts-pocalypse” as Globe and Mail critic Kelly Nestruck first referred to it on Twitter, is the Cultural Olympiad occuring in BC as part of the upcoming Olympic Winter Games.

The dilemna seems clear: The lead up to the games is the only time cultural leaders will have any leverage with the government. They, along with some of the best talent from across the country, are required to entertain the whole gosh-darn planet in a few of months. Afterwards it seems they will be expendable and dispensable, which is a thesis heavily supported by the provincial budget.  

But who wants to mess up the Olympics? Many artists have worked their whole lives to arrive on a stage as bright as this. Almost everyone in the arts knows someone who has an amazing opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have due to the Cultural Olympiad.

How to handle this situation will certainly require a sophisticated response from BC artists. It’s a mean-spirited position to put an entire industry and community in. There has been quite a bit of action on the Facebook Group: Organizing against Campbell’s cuts to the arts. Within days it has skyroceted to almost 2500 members and looks to be a central hub for information on this topic.

Are we really going to have one of those ridiculous national “Does art matter?” conversations again? What do you think should be done? How can the rest of Canadian artists support those in BC? One day everything on this website will be about art and how much fun it is to make it!

March 2, 2009, by

The provincial government in BC has the arts community piping mad after they reduced arts funding to 1980s levels in a single pre-election budget! (Did these guys pay attention to how well that worked out for the government in the federal election?) Theatre Skam has responded with your typical, “Don’t get mad, record and remix a really hilarious song about it” response. Click the link below to hear:

September 4, 2008, by

September 3, 2008 Town Hall meeting to mobilize in the face of sweeping arts funding cuts in Canada. Above, Toronto Arts Council Executive Director Claire Hopkinson.

And here, author/activist Naomi Klein rallies the troops.

Thanks to Naomi Campbell for passing these shots along. We’d love to post more. Send your Town Hall photos here. Thank you.

August 19, 2008, by

Does anyone have any information or opinions on the federal government’s recent cuts to the Trade Routes and the PromArt programs? Some are saying this is a vicious and sweeping attack on Canada’s culture industries.

Here’s a Globe and Mail primer on the cuts: Ottawa axes second arts subsidy in two weeks.

What does all this mean? What should we do?