Curator of the Morris Belkin Gallery Writes to Harper

Here is the letter to Prime Minister Harper from Scott Watson, Director and Curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia. Remember on Tuesday, vote for the arts — and that means anything but conservative.

7 October 2008

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I was impressed that so much time was given over to the arts on last Thursday’s debate. But from your remarks you seem not to know which programs you cut or what those programs did. One of these was the PromArt Program run by the Department of External Affairs and International Trade, where it was once thought that promoting Canadian art abroad advanced international trade. Let me give you an example of why they thought that.

Last year, I attended the opening of a retrospective by Stan Douglas in Stuttgart, Germany. The exhibition was in two institutions and occupied over thirty separate gallery rooms. In terms of space and financial resources (the show had a budget of 750,000 Euros) this was a huge exhibition of a Canadian artist, larger in fact than any Canadian institution has the resources to mount.

Why should PromArt have given $40,000 towards this project? Stuttgart is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and the corporate headquarters of Siemens, Porsche, Daimler, Bosch, Celesio, et al. The opening ceremony was attended by more than 500 people who represented Stuttgart’s business and cultural interests. They were addressed by the Foreign Minister of Germany and the Canadian Ambassador, as well as the museum curators and the artist.

This is the program your people tried to discredit ideologically for supporting punk bands or sending writers to Cuba. Canada will now be the only G8 country without a program to promote its arts and culture abroad. I do not think withdrawing from the deep connection between business, the arts and national prestige is what we ought to be doing in a time of economic crisis – or, indeed, at any time.

Sincerely,

Scott Watson
Director/Curator
UBC Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

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