Recently, a collective cringe went through the Canadian arts community when the braintrust at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) announced a major shortfall in their budget.
Now, we can debate how a publicly financed, (supposedly) world class organization can end up $171 million lighter in the pocket than expected another day…what I want to talk about this time around is the importance of the CBC to individual artists in this country.
I have my complaints with the Mother Corp. and I often take exception to their namby-panby, politically correct stance, their absolute abhorrence of the notion of offering offense to the smallest segment of the general public (and slanting their supposedly objective point of view accordingly). But for many of us working in the performing and literary arts in Canada, the CBC is, quite honestly, the only game in town.
My very first sale was to CBC Radio here in Saskatchewan. This was back in 1985, youngsters, when Wayne Schmalz was the arts and culture czar down in Regina. I’m teasing: Wayne is actually one of the nicest and most unassuming guys you’ll ever meet. He was also a superb producer with eclectic tastes and an infallible ear. He aired selected material on “Gallery”, which, at the time, was a literary arts program, and took a number of my early stories, raising my profile and putting some much needed cash into the pocket of a young scribbler.
After Wayne left, Dave Redel took over the big chair and did well enough to earn himself a promotion to the regional office in Edmonton.
And then along came Kelley Jo Burke. Kelley Jo loves the arts and is a huge booster of the cultural scene here in Saskatchewan. She knows everybody and is respected throughout the province, not just for producing fine radio shows, but also for her own highly accomplished literary and dramatic efforts. Along with her colleagues Shauna Powers and Bonnie Austring-Winter, Kelley Jo helped transform the weekly CBC Saskatchewan arts spot into SoundXChange, a celebration of all aspects of the performing arts here in “living sky country”.
But the looming cuts do not bode well for local shows like “SoundXChange”. Despite its much-touted mandate to represent all regions of Canada, CBC will be closing bureaus and cutting staff in some of the far-flung places that help provide Canada with its true, diverse identity. This will mean that more programming will originate in “central Canada” (God, I hate that term) and the perspective at the Ceeb will be come even more Toronto-centric than it already is.
Over the past week, I’ve heard rumbles within the tightknit arts community here in Saskatchewan, whispers that “SoundXChange” will be drastically scaled back, if not scrapped completely. What does that mean for folks like Kelley Jo and others down there in Regina, who have worked so hard to give new and established artists a valuable venue for their work, one that won’t ever be replaced? Shows like “SoundXChange” and “OutFront” (another favorite that was dropped) give voice to people in remote places (geographically, politically, emotionally), living in unique and fascinating circumstances. Without those voices being heard, we become a poorer, less representative society; homogenous and one-dimensional.
During tough economic times, there is a temptation to view the arts as “fat” and trim, shave, hack it away. Never mind all the studies that reveal what an economic stimulus a healthy arts industry represents and the amount of spin-off dollars it creates. Nah, just cut the arts and be content with the thin, tepid gruel that’s left over: talk radio, commercial jingles and vacuous pop.
It is my hope, my expectation, that organizations, guilds and entities that support the arts and artists in this country will speak out collectively and demand that public broadcasting in this country be funded at least at a level that’s comparable to similar counterparts around the developed world.
An enhanced, secure source of funding would ensure the continuing existence of programming that shows the true face(s) of Canada; we are a complex, multi-faceted society, well-schooled and highly literate.
Why in God’s name should we settle for anything less?
Postscript: My colleague Dale Estey contacted me through my Redroom page and sent along this link to a petition protesting the cutbacks at CBC.
Drop by and add your name to the honour roll. Let’s see if we can turn the tide. And while you’re at it, check out the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting site. They’ve been advocating and lobbying on behalf of homegrown, made-in-Canada programming for many a moon…