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Opinion

Fill Your Opening Ceremony with Arts, then Cut Them

Thanks for the show, artists -- now get lost. BC to slash 90 per cent of culture funding.

By Mark Leiren-Young 15 Feb 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Mark Leiren-Young wrote the unofficial satire of Expo '86, the long-running hit: Exposé: Sometimes the World's Fair, Sometimes it Ain't. He wasn't planning on commenting on the Olympics. Really, he wasn't. Mark won the 2009 Leacock Medal for Humour for his best-selling memoir, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen -- A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo.

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Premier Campbell: Nice sweater. Who designed it? Photo: The Blackbird.

As k.d. lang mesmerized the world with her magical rendition of "Hallelujah," I couldn't shake the image of Gordon Campbell as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, hearing the joyous carols from Whoville, his heart growing ten sizes as Leonard Cohen's lyrics soared to the roof of BC's giant marshmallow tied to a kitchen chair.

By the time the Alberta Ballet left the stage, WO Mitchell had been quoted, Ashley MacIsaac stopped fiddling, the spirit bear puppet took its bow, the First Nations dancers finally dropped from exhaustion and Shane Koyczan slammed out his last syllable about zippers and zeds, I hoped our Premier would realize what he'd been waving his flag for all month long, what was prompting this epic outpouring of hoser pride from Sea to Sea to Sea and why all those hearts around the world were glowing.

All the singing, dancing, drumming, pretty costumes, exotic designs and fancy words being intoned on the loudspeaker by Donald Sutherland is what government funding bodies call "arts and culture." And that would be the part of the provincial budget the Liberal Government recently decided to brutalize. Ninety per cent cuts? That's not "belt-tightening" -- that's premeditated murder by strangulation.

Artists came through

The next time a Liberal MLA -- or anyone -- goes on a rant about the value of arts and culture, skip the stats about how the arts return $1.30 to the economy for every government dollar invested. Don't mention the fact that culture creation is genuinely green. Don't bother pointing out that pretty much every other industry in Canada has some sort or subsidy, incentive or tax break attached to it. And forget the reality that if our galleries, museums and theatres start to close, our tourism industry will be about as inviting as a Stephen Harper smile. Ask them what Canada decided to show off when millions of people tuned in from around the world to find out what our country was all about.

Unless I missed something, there were no spectacular shots of our highways, no visits to mills or mines -- and, with all due respect to our Greatest Canadian, Tommy Douglas, there wasn't any footage of someone on the Olympic stage receiving affordable health care.

The Canadian heroes chosen to share the world stage with our Olympic athletes weren't our politicians, lawyers, or civil servants and our military presence consisted of General Romeo Dallaire, who was introduced as an author. Oh, right, they also threw in an astronaut to represent non-artsy Canadians.

For the next few weeks we're not showing the world our banks, our office towers, or our tar sands -- we're pointing at inukshuks.

If you took all the arts and culture out of the opening ceremonies -- that would include the choreographed torch fun run as the hydraulics performed their scene from Spinal Tap -- all you've got left from the scheduled event are a couple of political speeches, a thanks from VANOC, the athletes entering -- without music -- wearing non-distinctive, undesigned uniforms, and Wayne Gretzky in the getaway truck. I'm sure NBC would have loved that.

Not bashing the Olympics

I'm not one of the people protesting this party, pretending these are Gordon's games when the torch was originally lit by three NDP premiers. I'm not buying the argument that every dollar spent on the Olympic Village was taken from artists, Downtown Eastside improvements and starving children. The Olympics brought in federal money B.C. never would have seen to fund projects B.C. governments have wanted to fund for years. All these skaters, skiers and snowboarders have the potential to generate tourism and investment dollars for decades, which is why leaders from Gordon Campbell to Larry Campbell were willing to sell out the stores on Cambie Street to bring the five ring circus to Vangroovy.

I spent two hours in line to watch the opening ceremonies on the big screen TVs at Livecity. I've mortgaged a kidney so I can watch Belarus battle for hockey gold. I'm not waving a flag, but I have no trouble wearing my "Team Canada" toque. As a result, I wasn't looking to bitch about the games until I saw the man who decided B.C. didn't need arts funding basking in the reflected glory of B.C.'s finest artists.

And since the artists participating in the Olympics aren't allowed to publicly comment on anything beyond how much they enjoyed the show, I thought I'd say what I hope k.d., Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado and most of those soon to be unemployed dancers, actors, designers, scenic painters, stage managers and technicians who did their best to make the show spectacular were thinking in those moments they weren't demonstrating the artistic version of faster, higher, stronger -- "Shame on you, Gordon."

Stand up for our funding

What's really tragic is that Campbell knows the arts matter -- so why is he pandering to the pinheads in his party? Why isn't he asking them if they were proud of their country when the world was welcomed to our province by artists who were nurtured by Canadian content rules, the Canada Council and the CBC -- and also the B.C. Arts Council they've just ransacked.

Canada asked our artists to host this party -- and Gordon Campbell told them to leave by the back door, change out of their good clothes, put on their waiter outfits and mop up after the guests go home.

It's time for Premier Grinch to get on the bobsled to Whoville, reinstate the funding, address the impact of the HST and the gaming cuts, and admit that he's not returning stolen presents. Arts and culture are "an essential service" because those songs, stories, dances and images are what make us proud to be Canadian.

Go Canada!  [Tyee]

Read more: 2010 Olympics, Music

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