Before December 23, 2009, a section of Vancouver’s Beatty Street was home to a series of murals painted by 16 local artists as part of a charity fundraiser. But on that morning, the Downtown Eastside murals were painted over by City of Vancouver workers in a colour that’s come to be known as “Olympic Blue.” None of the artists were informed of the impending destruction of their works.
The reason for the paint job? Though the city called it “maintenance in the area,” the section of Beatty Street in question will be used as an entertainment site during the Olympics. It’s not hard to connect the dots.
A few weeks later, in early January, a piece of graffiti appeared on the wall. Under a depiction of the Olympic rings were seven words: “With glowing hearts we kill the arts.”
It’s ironic that although culture has been hailed as the “second pillar” of the Olympic Games since Vancouver’s original bid, bringing the Olympics to B.C. has been accompanied by unprecedented cuts in funding for the arts in the province, as well as accusations that Olympic organizers have engaged in censorship.
In the run-up to the Games, Tourism, Culture, and Arts Minister Kevin Krueger has said that they’re “going to feed hungry children before [they’re going to] provide grants to organizations.” Although provincial officials have said that they’ve decided to slash arts funding in order to have money to “feed hungry children,” the fact is that by the time the Olympics are over, B.C. funding for the arts will have been cut more than 80 per cent, from $47 million per year to $3.7 million. By 2011, 92 per cent of funding will have been lost.
These numbers are nothing short of absurd. No other item on the provincial budget comes close to this level of funding decrease, which leaves one wondering what the Liberal government was thinking. All talk of the social value of art aside, economically, the cultural sector employs 80,000 people in B.C. and gives back $5.2 billion in taxes to the province each year – a huge return on a relatively small investment.
It would perhaps be easier to stomach these funding cuts if the money lost were being spent wisely. But when, in advance of the Olympics, $486 million is going toward a retractable stadium roof, another $1 million toward tickets to the Games for politicians, and $2.86 million to fund parties – yes, parties – in various towns that the Olympic torch will pass through, it’s difficult to see how the decision to cut arts funding is being set up as one that pits money for the arts against the aforementioned hungry children.
Let’s be honest – redirecting money toward alleviating B.C.’s child poverty problem is not the root cause here. It’s the Games. Recently, the Vancouver Sun reported that the total cost of the Olympics would reach $6 billion (“Olympics bill tops $6 billion – so far,” January 23), all so that a bunch of people can line up at the top of a mountain and see who can ski to the bottom first. Forgive me if I don’t see the point.
Of course, some will argue that the point is the feeling of pride and love for one’s country that comes from watching homegrown athletes succeed at the Games. But I, for one, feel a sense of pride in being Canadian when I see a new work by a Canadian dancemaker, or when I take in an innovative art installation put together by an up-and-coming Canadian artist. These are things that we, as a nation, ought to be proud of as well – before, during, and after the two weeks of Olympic competition. What’s shameful is that arts institutions in B.C. are closing their doors for lack of funding. When the Games are over and done with, it will be B.C.’s cultural landscape, not just Vancouver’s urban one, that will have changed.
Amelia Schonbek has a B.A. (’09 in English and is The Daily’s coordinating Culture editor. Write her at email@example.com.