Sunday, February 22, 2009

Call to Arms

Okay, so regular readers of CLM know that yours truly isn't exactly bleeding heart about funding for the arts. I believe that the government of a democratic society should provide financial support for unremunerative artistic endeavours, but I dislike many of the ways in which said funds are disbursed, and I dislike the self-absorbed sense of entitlement evinced by a good many soi-disant artists who seem to think they are owed a living.

I also dislike the rather naive argument routinely trotted out when funding cuts happen or are threatened: that the arts are good for the economy. Why do I dislike this? Because only some arts are good for the economy; if we're going to determine funding on a case by case basis in terms of potential return on investment, a lot of the things we value would get zip, zero, zilch.

Something I learned of today confirms that I'm right about this. Quill & Quire reports that a new rationalised funding programme for magazines introduced by the Heritage dept. of the Conservative government will result in mags with fewer than 5000 subscribers getting no funding. That will include every literary magazine in the country. Some of these mags probably shouldn't be receiving as much moola as they do, but this has nothing at all to do with their subscription base. This is absolutely the wrong way to go about redistributing the monies allotted to magazines.

CNQ, the magazine I work for, will lose $10,000, according to the publisher. They already don't have enough money in the budget to pay me for my editorial work. A hit like that will drastically affect the way the magazine operates. It will affect production values, frequency, page count, contributor payments, etc.

Fortunately, these new guidelines are not in effect yet and there seems to be some optimism that the Heritage dept. can be headed off at the pass. A quick, strong and broad response is needed. Write to the Minister. Write to your MP.


B. Glen Rotchin said...

Please explain to me why, in the age of the internet and proliferation of opinion on all things, including literary matters, especially literary matters, we need the government to fund magazines that have few subscribers and are likely to have fewer as time and technology march on.

Zachariah Wells said...

As I've said many times in the past, I think literary magazines should make most if not all of their content available online, if only because they _are_ publicly funded. But part of the value of literary magazines is archival, and part of the problem with the internet is that content published there is ephemeral. We have yet to improve on acid-free paper and microfilm as ways of preserving things.

I'm not about to argue that all the magazines currently being funded should be funded. But using the subscription base as the criteria for deciding this is extremely crude. Why should a magazine that caters to a bigger audience--say a motorcycle mag--get funding whereas one that caters to a smaller interest group gets none? Back issues of most magazines are of no interest to anyone. Back issues of literary magazines by contrast, are often consulted by many people.

This is not a funding cut being proposed. It is a reallocation of funds. If you're going to fund cultural activities based on potential return on investment, this move makes sense. If, however, you believe that there are factors other than the purely pecuniary that should be weighed, this is an arbitrary exercise of bureaucratic authority.