The Tories inevitably took heat from some quarters for their $45 million in cuts to arts funding some weeks ago. But the party paid no political price for it, partly because the Harper government has actually increased net spending on arts and culture, and because shrill indignation over arts-funding cuts has never worked. Remember that for much of the general public, "the arts" means unaffordable $160 opera tickets. And even many lefties would redirect arts funding to people in need.
The real news yesterday is that, perhaps unintentionally, the Tories, led by a cofounder of the arts-hostile Reform Party, committed themselves to significant arts funding. Stephen Harper said Thursday that the feds have "a fundamental role" to play in supporting arts and culture.
I think Harper struck the right balance in his comments yesterday, about investing public funds in the arts but doing so discriminately, not "funding things that people actually don't want."
"You don't get to the point where you're just abandoning it, because I think cultural life is too fragile for that. And on the other hand, you don't get to the point where, to be blunt, you have creators or producers who are entirely cut off from public need or public demand."
"There are some people who say, 'Well, it isn't good enough to increase funding for the arts, you have to increase funding for every single program.' My simple response is that no responsible government can manage the government that way. You have to select priorities and you have to make choices."
And who knew Harper was so artsy? A proficient pianist, he graduated Grade 9 at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music (Harper is an East York native, for all his Western colouration). Musing Thursday about his lifelong fascination with artistic pursuits, Harper noted that "I've sung a bit. I used to write poetry." He has been at work for years on a book chronicling the history of the NHL. And with friends and staff, his pick-up band, Stephen and the Firewalls, performs the occasional gig at parties.
Firewall is a reference to the long-ago letter Harper sent to then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein, when Harper still headed the National Citizens Coalition, urging him to build a firewall around the province to limit federal intrusion. (Klein rejected the advice.)
And not to forget the emphasis Harper puts on reading: