A Department of Culture We Can Love
We've been a bit remiss about not mentioning the Department of Culture until now. The grassroots organization, founded after some informal talks at The Rhino has been leading the war of words against Harper's much derided promises to cut the level of arts funding in Canada.
They've also been a force behind a number of grassroots events in Toronto like the Townhalls (see video of Naomi Klein's speech) at the Theatre Centre earlier this month and the current Gone in 30 seconds video contest.
To get the details on how all this got started, the organization's progress to date and the upcoming must-attend This is not a Conservative Party concert I exchanged a brief email Q&A with Department of Culture Central Coordinator Michael Wheeler.
How did the Department of Culture get started?
A group of artists came together for two meetings at The Rhino in Parkdale on August 26th and 29th. These artists came from many different backgrounds and disciplines. Many of us had never met each other before. A plan of action to use artists and their skills to prevent Stephen Harper from winning the election was proposed and approved.
Can you tell us why the DoC has decided to focus most of its efforts on unseating conservatives in two Toronto ridings?
The 905 Belt is a key battleground in Stephen Harper's quest for a Draconian majority. Many of us grew up in the 905, have family there, or live relatively close to it. It seemed obtuse to us that the future of our country was going to be decided right on our doorstep, and we were going to play with our friends downtown where Conservatives don't stand a chance at winning any seats.
We chose Oakville where it was darn close last time around, and Whitby/Oshawa as it was close and Jim Flaherty is running there. As Finance Minister he is promoting many of the same deregulation policies that just tanked the US economy and we want to make sure that message is out there loud and clear.
Is it fair to say that it's primarily a Toronto-based and focused organization?
No it isn't. We are going national, with DoCs already up and running in Winnipeg and Peterborough. There are more on the way. Also, The Wrecking Ball is a semi-regular political cabaret tied to current events that normally occurs in Toronto. They always get huge playwrights to create new works. For the first time ever, it is going to occur in cities across the country on October 6th in support of the DoC. Canada has artists from coast-to-coast and we're motivated and organized.
How many active members are there of the DoC?
It depends on your definition of "active". There are 10 original founding members of the Toronto DoC and two staff. We also have a database of more than a thousand volunteers and around 4000 friends on Facebook. As we go national however, these numbers are expanding exponentially, so by the time you read this they will all have changed.
The Harper government is proposing cuts to certain programs it feels are inefficient. If the level of overall arts funding was kept consistent, but funds were re-allocated to areas that were seen as having a more beneficial impact, would the DoC consider this to be an acceptable solution?
We are a group of artists from multiple disciplines who came together because of the Conservative cuts to arts funding. It was only our genesis however, and we came quickly to the conclusion that we are also a grouping of citizens that participate in Canadian society whenever we leave our rehearsal rooms and studios.
In particular, we are concerned about the toxic damage a Conservative majority would do to the social fabric of our society as related to everything from healthcare, to an unregulated economy, to making Canada an international laughingstock on the environment. We do not support a particular political party. We are only quite certain that a Harper government is directly opposed to our hopes and dreams for the future.
Do you think tax payers should be footing the bill for artists to tour internationally? If so, where is the line drawn? Ie. Should taxpayers be paying for Holy Fuck to tour the UK but not, say, Rush to tour the US?
If I was to answer this question, I would not be practicing what we preach. We don't believe decisions about the funding of individual projects should be a political matter. This is precisely what arms length peer review is for. It's one of those interesting questions to muse about, but really we have already designed a suitable system to handle it already.
What can you tell us about the October 9th This is not a Conservative Party concert?
Tickets are $20 and of course anyone can attend! They're available online at totix.ca, and at four retails outlets across town: Rotate This (801 Queen St W); Soundscapes (572 College St); Pages Bookstore (256 Queen St W); This Ain't The Rosedale Library (86 Nassau St).
Among the growing list of confirmed artists: Dave Bidini (Rheostatics), Jim Creeggan (Barenaked Ladies), Jason Collett (Broken Social Scene) and the Skydiggers.
More musicians', hosts' and speakers' names will be announced in the weeks to come.
This concert is going to be legendary. It will be 5 days before the election, and we hope it will represent the consolidation of public opinion with regards to Stephen Harper being a terrible choice for Prime Minister.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Yes. I would like to directly address your readers:
Hello blogTO reader.
What are you doing this weekend? We have a great idea about a fun way you can make sure Stephen Harper doesn't do to the country what Mike Harris did to our province:
Tina Fey made a Sarah Palin video and Barak Obama is up 10 points again. This stuff really does have an impact. The winning video will be shown at the This Is Not A Conservative Party on October 9th to the adoring cheers of thousands. We think that despite the deep pockets of the Conservatives ad machine, they totally don't get the YouTube generation. This is a major weakness we can all exploit together. Please someone do something about sweaters for goodness sake.