At the end of his open letter to Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien, rob mclennan muses — after reiterating what many have pointed out: that arts funding produces a return of investment to a community of some ten to twenty dollars per $1 spent — about leaving the city.
This musing, I think, touches on the most serious danger represented by Ottawa’s proposed 100% cut to arts funding: loss of life.
Though loss to the city of someone like Rob might not show up as a line item in the budget, it signals the start of slow decline. Without the vitality and industry of people like Rob, arts culture dies. And without the arts, a city becomes little more than a drab, purposeless collection of roads and buildings.
What is a community if not a place where life is made better, easier, more enjoyable for the people who live in it? Why do most of us work? So that we can closet themselves up each night watching American sit coms? Thrill to the sound of police, ambulance and fire engine sirens keeping streets and citizenry safe? Drive in awe along snow cleared, chronically re-constructing roads?
Safety and security are obviously important. Without them, it’s difficult to enjoy much else. But, isn’t there more to life than simply surviving? Why live if all you do is survive? The arts are life giving. Surely spending money on bringing life to the city is just as important as spending money on protecting it?
Ironic then, isn’t it, that if one so much as squeaks about the possibility that funds are being wasted by police, fire, health care, road maintenance services, you’re branded a borderline criminal, a nut living multiple removes from the real fiscal world. Who [he said ironically] could possibly argue that services which may save just one life, are not worth every cent spent on them? Who in their right mind would complain about the convoy of redundant cruisers, ambulances and firetrucks that often show up when 911 is dialed (false alarms or otherwise)? Who would have the nerve to complain about the constant, long term tearing up and re-paving of Bank Street and King Edward Avenue? Certainly not anyone concerned about living in a well run city…
But consider this…perhaps by spending that 1/5th of 1% of the budget that goes to the Arts, and even increasing it a smidgen, there just might be less crime…people might just be a little happier, fewer of them might be on the streets. Fewer might attempt suicide, drink or use drugs to excess, fall asleep with cigarettes in their hands…?
Without a lively arts sector, Ottawa will lose and repel exactly the kind of creative, interesting people that cities require in order to thrive, in order to ensure the well-being of everyone, in order to facilitate life that is not dull, but passionate.
By cutting arts funding, Ottawa will lose its life.