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Canadian Prime Minister pledges to boost cultural investment

Arts professionals are generally optimistic about the country’s new leadership—although some worry promised changes could be too little too late

Artists and arts administrators are optimistic about Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Canada’s Liberal party who was elected Prime Minster in October. Trudeau, the son of the celebrated former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has pledged to invest an additional $380m into arts and culture.

Over the past eight years, the cultural sector has seen its funding decline under Stephen Harper’s conservative government. Between 2006 and 2014, per capita funding for the Canada Council for the Arts shrunk by 8.3%, from $5.54 to $5.08, according to a report released in September by the Canadian Arts Coalition. (Canada still beats the US, which dedicated $3.84 per capita in arts funding in 2014, according to Grantmakers in the Arts.)

Trudeau has promised to double the government’s investment in the Canada Council for the Arts, which funds music, theatre, dance and visual arts across the country, from $180m to $360m per year. He also pledged $150m in new annual funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. And he has promised to restore two international cultural programmes cut by the conservative government: Promart, which provides cultural travel grants to artists, and Trade Routes, which helps cultural groups export and sell their wares abroad.

“Culture is what defines us. It brings us together. Yet for a decade, our cultural and creative industries have been under attack by Harper,” Trudeau said in a speech in September. “I want our creators, in all fields, in all communities—including Indigenous Peoples and linguistic minorities—to feel supported and valued by their government. Cultural investment creates jobs, stimulates tourism, and improves our overall quality of life and sense of community.”

This is welcome news to many in Canada’s art world. Gregory Burke, the director of Remai Modern, a museum of Modern art due to open in Saskatchewan in 2017, praised the return of the Promart programme. “There is a potential for isolation—almost provincialism—that can grow up by shutting down our borders. Artists in Canada aren’t going to benefit from having walls put up,” he says.  

“This is a moment when everything changes and we need to take a deep breath,” the Toronto-based museum consultant Gail Dexter Lord told The Star on 21 October. “Now we can think about things in a more positive way. Canada needs a cultural plan and a cultural policy. Other countries have them.”

Meanwhile, some artists are more concerned about Trudeau’s non-cultural policies. The photographer Edward Burtynsky posted on Twitter on 24 October: “Happy to hear PM @JustinTrudeau say that ‘Canada’s years of being a less-than-enthusiastic actor on the climate change file are behind us.’”

Not everyone is happy about Trudeau’s ascent. The artist and curator Charles Stankievech posted on Facebook that the new Prime Minister represents “barely a change in policy and there will be minimal reversal of the vast amount of damage done to this country”. He noted that the same administration voted for the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015, which broadened the authority of government agencies to share information about private citizens.