ArtsVote Calgary hosts public forum at Calgary Public Library
The ArtsVote Provincial Election Forum encouraged debate and discussion of the government's role in the province's arts sector.
"We can use this year to re-engage and build," said Paul Chambers, a volunteer at ArtsVote Calgary, which organized the event.
"Today's forum is about the future of the arts. While it can be said that we have a healthy arts sector now, we need to readdress policies and goals that will allow our arts to continue to thrive and adapt for all Albertans."
He added that the forum was about keeping "arts and culture policy in the forefront of candidates' and voters' minds during the election campaign."
This mirrors ArtsVote Calgary's goal to ensure that the next Alberta legislature maintains and enhances arts-friendly policies and practices.
Seven Calgary-based party candidates attended:
• David Swann of the Alberta Liberal Party, running in Calgary-Mountain View.
• Kevin Woron of the Alberta Party, running in Calgary-Hawkwood.
• Len Skowronski, leader of the Social Credit Party, running in Calgary-Hawkwood.
• Mike Blanchard of the Wildrose Alliance, running in Calgary-Buffalo.
• Marc Power of Alberta's New Democratic Party, running in Calgary-Klein.
• Sandra Jansen of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, running in Calgary-North West.
• William Hamilton of the EverGreen Party of Alberta, running in Calgary-Elbow.
Chambers said ArtsVote Calgary did attempt to invite party leaders but were told that they were busy campaigning in their own ridings province-wide.
Some of the issues brought up in the debate included: arts funding in education becoming a priority, what the provincial government's role is when it comes to supporting arts in Alberta and its benefits to citizens, what will be done to ensure consistent arts funding, and addressing inadequacies in Calgary's arts and cultural infrastructure.
NDP candidate Power said that funding for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts should be raised by $90 million over four years.
"We can make sure that there is funding for artists who need help," he said.
"We see in government slash and burn."
Power continued to point the finger at the right-wing parties, saying, "We can't trust conservatives to take care of the arts."
Blanchard of the Wildrose Alliance responded to Power's statement and said: "I think some parties are easy targets when it comes to arts funding, arts and culture, Wildrose being one. I think it's easy to fear-monger and say that so-called political right parties would make first cuts in arts, well it's easy to say, but that's not true.
"Wildrose is one party, for example, that thinks we need a vibrant and cultural community in this province."
Blanchard continued to talk about the film industry as an example, stating that the current government has made it difficult for Albertans with talent to stay in Alberta because the government has failed to offer what other provinces have.
Meanwhile, discussing the question of arts funding in education, Sandra Jansen of the PCs thinks funding and incorporating the arts into schools is crucial for children.
Using her daughter's struggles in school as an example, she said: "When we moved her into a program that was arts-based, where art related back to all of her curriculum — it related back to science classes and her math classes, everything she did — she became so engaged in her classroom activities that she went from a C student to an A student."
Audience members listened attentively as the candidates carried on.
At the end of the 80-minute forum, questions were not taken publicly but instead the candidates walked about the library, answering any questions face-to-face with members of the public.
Peter Bulkowski, a member of the audience, attended the forum to see what the candidates had to say.
"I'm concerned about our funding of groups and organizations that really don't have public support," he said.
"Fundamentally for the arts, the general public says every day that they do not support arts the way the arts community believes it should be supported."
Bulkowski also wondered why the government should be in the position to collect taxes from people who do not agree with what the government is supporting.
Closing remarks came from all seven candidates, each one summarizing their party's positions on support for the arts.
"It's been a fantastic event," said Hamilton, a member of the EverGreen party.
"I can tell you that in our city and in our world, the loud, proud and distinctive artistic and cultural voice of Calgary is yearning more than ever to be heard."
- By Riad Kadri