Just as Indigenous culture is being given an opportunity to shine at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa, with the forthcoming opening of the world’s first national Indigenous Theatre, funding for Indigenous arts and culture in the region has suffered a blow.
The Indigenous Culture Fund, administered by Ontario Arts Council (OAC), has been cut completely as part of a reduction to arts sector funding in Ottawa, which has seen the arts funds available slashed from CAD18.5m (€16.6m) to CAD6.5m. The closure of the Indigenous Culture Fund will save Ontario an estimated CAD5m.
According to media reports in Canada, including this one in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, the progressive conservative government must trim a CAD11.7bn deficit, with tourism, arts and culture budgets bearing the brunt.
OAC, a provincial grant-awarding body, is set to receive CAD10m less from the government this year – a decision that will no doubt have serious ramifications for grassroots arts practitioners.
In total the culture programmes budget has been reduced from CAD295m in 2018 to CAD235m. “Arts sector support” is expected to thrive on just a third of its original pot – just CAD6.5m, down from the previous figure of CAD18.5m.
Speaking to the Globe and Mail, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said the arts, including music and storytelling, are ‘a very important part of Indigenous culture’.
“That sends a terrible signal to our arts community that their work is not valued, their contribution to society is not valued,” he said.
Meanwhile minister for tourism, culture and sport, Michael Tibollo, said support for Indigenous communities would be provided via other programmes, adding that cuts to the arts were necessary to make Ottawa’s spending sustainable.
“Prioritising things that are really important — education, health care, ending the hallway medicine — there are so many issues we have to deal with that are critical to the wants of the people of the province,” he said. “I’m quite aware of the importance of (the arts) … But I think we have to first make sure that we do what matters most to people and that’s get control of the fiscal economy.”
Speaking to IAM in October 2018, Kevin Loring, artistic director at Indigenous Theatre, explained why spaces for Indigenous artists are so important to the community.
“It’s hard to comprehend why it is only now that the world has its first national theatre department for Indigenous artists,” he said. “From Autumn 2019, First Nations, Métis and Inuit theatre practitioners will be supported by everything NAC has to offer, plus a CAD3.5m (€2.32m) budget, and an experienced management team with Indigenous heritage.”
“And when you consider that our general experiences and memories of childhood are shaped and formed by the stories we hear, the people we see and the family and community experiences we share – you can see why the launch of NAC’s Indigenous Theatre is such a big deal.”