Robbing the rich to give to the poor.

Or more accurately, robbing taxpayers to give to the poor artists. From today’s Record:

After years of work the Prosperity Council, which represents 3,400 businesses in this region, asked municipal councillors to provide the operating funds for an arts enabling organization beginning in 2010.

A letter was recently sent to every councillor in the region, saying the annual budget for the arts organization is about $450,000.

As municipal councils consider their 2010 budgets, the Prosperity Council suggests the Region of Waterloo could fund half of that annual cost and the local councils could share the remainder.

Isn’t that wonderful? The region and the cities can share the cost, all of which comes out of the pockets of local taxpayers regardless of how you split it up.

The first answer to any problem in Canada seems to be to ask some level of government for money. And why not? Canada has created a basic welfare state at every level. Businesses look to the government for loans and grants. So do Arts organizations. Municipal governments look to the provincial governments, and provincial governments to the federal government for funding.

Everyone has their handout for a decreasing pool of cash from the government. But as my Aunt Jean used to say, when you see the word "government", substitute the word "taxpayer". Plumbers, mechanics, accountants, factory workers – their hard-earned money is taken to give to someone else who is deemed to deserve it by someone else.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. Four citizens were able to raise $385,000 in a few months to put a rink in Waterloo’s public square after the city council said they didn’t have the money.Clearly that was something the community could get behind and support.

Now I do appreciate the value of the Arts, and I do understand what the Prosperity Council is trying to do. But not all arts or artists provide the same value, and how do we decide which to support and which not to support?

The Prosperity Council is also working on this for a somewhat selfish reason:

The Prosperity Council believes a vibrant arts scene is essential for the long-term health of the local economy as this region competes with Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton for talent. Those cities spend significantly more on arts and culture.

If this is about competing for talent that benefits business, then those businesses should be willing to pony up more than $70,000, less than one fifth of that raised for that public skating rink. That’s my view as a taxpayer who has been forced to pay an ever increasing tax bill without seeing that much benefit. And I do enjoy the Arts. Imagine how unreasonable this seems to a citizen who does not. Why should they be forced to pay for something they may never use or enjoy? This is not like paying education, which benefits all. This is asking people to pay for something with a value that is highly subjective.

Arts and artists must consider learning ways to show their value to the average citizen. Even Shakespeare and Michaelangelo had to convince benefactors to fund them. We do have galleries, live theatre, and a symphony in the region, all of which I enjoy, and I hope they grow and prosper. But like it or not, they do have to reach our to average citizens for their acceptance and their ticket sales. I do wish the Prosperity Council all the best in helping them to accomplish that and I would love to help in any way I can.

Always relying on the taxpayer to foot the bill – or using the more recent tactic of threatening closure if we don’t pay up – are very poor long term solutions.

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