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Editorial

Arts funding in a time of crisis

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Gravol may be the drug of 2008, consumption required to survive the motion sickness as the world lurches from one calamity to another.

The year began with unprecedented interest in climate change, following the release of the final report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In February there were riots over the rising price of food � partly caused by climate change � in several African countries and Haiti. By April the World Bank president was predicting 100 million people in low-income countries could be pushed deeper into poverty by the rise in food prices.

But by early summer food prices were no longer making headlines, replaced by the price of oil, which was closing in on $150 a barrel. This, of course, had an impact on the price of food, but also on anything else that moved.

At the end of the summer the crisis in the financial industry became the news. The takeover of Bear Stearns in March by JP Morgan Chase for $2 a share was a warning of things to come, but it didn�t prompt serious attention until Lehman Brothers collapsed in September.

Since then the crisis has spread from the financial industry. Stock markets have mimicked bungee jumpers, plummeting straight down then rebounding, but never quite to where they started.

And now, of course, the �real economy� is being battered. Ontario has been losing jobs for months. Layoffs began at some Winnipeg manufacturers this week. In the U.S., the New York Times reports that, �The steel mills, big suppliers to many sectors of the economy, are shutting 17 of the nation�s 29 blast furnaces � a startling indicator of how quickly output is declining as corporate America struggles to adjust to the spreading crisis.�

This week, an analyst for CIBC World Markets told Canadian Press: �From our discussions with retailers across the country, it is safe to predict that (the) fourth quarter of 2008 will be the worst in over two decades.�

In our little corner of the world, where we depend on people having enough money, or credit, to take vacations, we are hoping the exchange rate and special deals will draw visitors this winter. It�s not a bad strategy � as shown by the fact that everyone in the tourism business is using it.

�Faced with sluggish bookings as more travelers consider whether they can actually afford a holiday trip this year, resorts from the Caribbean to the Colorado Rockies are loosening minimum-stay restrictions, beefing up packages and even rolling out off-season-like discounts to attract cost-conscious travelers,� the New York Times reported last Sunday.

And of course all this comes at a time when hotel occupancy has a larger and more direct impact on revenues to the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

This context seemed to be lost on some of the people gathered Tuesday night at Millennium Place to ask the candidates for Whistler council what they would do to support the arts and culture. It�s not that anyone is opposed to increasing the arts and culture in Whistler; indeed as Councillor and self-proclaimed tree hugger Eckhard Zeidler said, the arts are more important to Whistler than the trees on Lots 1 and 9. The question is how much (more) can the financially-strapped municipality give.

The arts and culture are important to Whistlerites and to visitors� Whistler experience. That point was recognized about 10 years ago when the municipality substantially increased the Whistler Arts Council�s funding three years in a row, allowing the arts council to hire a professional administrator and develop long-term plans for the arts. That municipal funding has been consistent ever since. But seeing as core municipal arts funding comes from the hotel tax, it�s going to be a challenge to maintain that consistency.

With the Olympics coming to town, public funding for the arts from senior levels of government has grown substantially. This is on top of the private funding for the arts that comes through sponsors of things like the World Ski and Snowboard Festival and the Whistler Film Festival, private art galleries and so on.

Rather than some of the questions stated and inferred Tuesday � that municipal councillors should boost arts funding � the issue for council candidates should be ensuring Whistler gets the most bang for its arts and culture bucks. That might include bringing all local arts and culture organizations under one umbrella, rather than having each of them scramble for municipal funding.

In the global context of 2008, arts and culture needs to continue looking for efficiencies � just as everyone else should be doing, including council candidates.

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