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An arts conversation with Canadian Taxpayer Federations’ Scott Hennig

By DJ Kelly June 26, 2009

On Tuesday afternoon a Calgary City Council committee approved a bylaw amendment to help offset the costs of city services to festivals. Obviously Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation didn’t agree with this kind of precedent and he made a comment about it on Twitter.

As an arts advocate who believes the small subsidy (compared to other industries) Canadians provide arts organizations is far outweighed by the return on investment and quality of life we get back, I took it upon myself to have a conversation with Mr. Hennig on Twitter about this topic.

Here is the full conversation to the best of my Twitter searching capabilities:

CalgaryCowbell: We want our cake and to eat it too. Low taxes = no money for city to provide services for festivals #yyc

ScottHennig: @CalgaryCowbell low taxes = citizens have the ability to fund festivals, arts, and other things themselves.

djkelly: @scotthennig Canadian arts would disappear w/o granting support. And with it the differences between Canada and US, followed by the border.

djkelly: @scotthennig It is in the city/prov/country’s interest to support the arts to attract and retain talent.

ScottHennig: @djkelly I don’t think it is in the “city/prov/country’s interest,” it is in citizen’s interest to support the arts, willingly and freely.

djkelly: @scotthennig Does that argument extend to garbage collection? Public transit? Road maintenance? And other things in the public interest?

ScottHennig: @djkelly there R some things that R difficult to fund directly & freely (ie. police) + there R things that R easy to do so (ie. arts).

djkelly: @scotthennig What makes the arts easy for individuals exclusively to fund? No country has been able to do it successfully. (Most don’t try.)

ScottHennig: @djkelly Most theaters have ticket offices, most buskers have hats, & most painters will sell their work. Plus most arts groups R charities.

djkelly: @scotthennig NP arts revenue model: 1/3 ticket sales, 1/3 donations, 1/3 grants. No arts group can survive on ticket sales alone.

djkelly: @scotthennig Eliminate grants and prices would triple and no-one would come. Same thing if we made every street a toll road.

ScottHennig: @nenshi @djkelly 99.7% of the Metropolitan Opera expenses covered by non-gov’t sources. But not the point.

ScottHennig: @djkelly vry doubtful. Lwr tax = more charitable giving. Plus, arts that nobody wld support wld disappear. Just like car companies…whoops!

djkelly: @scotthennig The increase of charitable giving created by lower taxes would not come close to offsetting the lost of grants.

ScottHennig: @djkelly True. But only to those who get a disproportionate amount of tax $. Other artists or charitable sectors would get more.

djkelly: @scotthennig Sorry, who currently gets a disproportionate amount?

djkelly: @scotthennig RE the Met: you cite an example from a city with 12M ppl. Your point doesn’t translate to Canada as it would mean no opera 4 us

ScottHennig: @djkelly Those arts who get more tax $ than the public would give them freely if given back their money back currently get a disproport. Amt

ScottHennig: @djkelly RE: Met, the point is that citizens will support the arts, and yes on a smaller scale so could any group of citizens in Canada.

djkelly: @scotthennig Sounds like that would take more $ in red tape & admin than it would save.

ScottHennig: @djkelly Not much red tape involved in cutting taxes.

djkelly: @scotthennig Can’t do the vast majority of operas on a smaller scale. A symphony and cast can’t be replaced by less ppl.

djkelly: @scotthennig Looks like we are having a 140 character problem as I apparently didn’t understand your proposal. Or you wanted a sound bite 😉

ScottHennig: @djkelly Yes, and the Calgary Flames don’t play games in 500 seat arenas, but other hockey teams do.

ScottHennig: D djkelly Good convo. Gotta run.

djkelly: @scotthennig As a fiscal conservative I appreciate the CTF. Obviously we disagree on this issue though.

djkelly: @scotthennig Can’t DM back bc your not following me. Thanks 4 debating the issue. 2 often ppl lob insults at the arts & won’t back them up.

Unfortunately we were just getting warmed up when the end of the work day came and we both had to leave our computers. It is a worth while discussion and I hope to have the ability to continue the debate with Mr. Hennig in the future. Perhaps in person next time.

  • Duncan

    It's too bad you didn't end up with more "time" to debate because in the answer between the debate might lie the answer.While I believe strongly the arts in Canada need and deserve public dollars (and vice versa – the public needs and deserves the arts) this debate is the one missing from the public discourse. A shame it had to end so soon, because I think the logical conclusion, as I think the public would end up agreeing with you.

  • Duncan

    It's too bad you didn't end up with more "time" to debate because in the answer between the debate might lie the answer.

    While I believe strongly the arts in Canada need and deserve public dollars (and vice versa – the public needs and deserves the arts) this debate is the one missing from the public discourse. A shame it had to end so soon, because I think the logical conclusion, as I think the public would end up agreeing with you.

  • -dj

    Kind of you to say, Duncan.I think the crux of the matter falls into where we draw the line between between what 'needs' to be taxpayer funded and what can survive on user pay alone.As Scott rightfully points out Police obviously would not work as a user pay service. However I see the arts falling into the same kind of category as Roads – we could easily turn every road into toll road (user pay) but that would not be a sustainable model.And it would make our cities worse off. Just as they would be without the arts.The conversation is not a simple one, despite what the people writing the comments section of Global & Mail and CBC websites might want it to be.

  • -dj

    Kind of you to say, Duncan.

    I think the crux of the matter falls into where we draw the line between between what 'needs' to be taxpayer funded and what can survive on user pay alone.

    As Scott rightfully points out Police obviously would not work as a user pay service. However I see the arts falling into the same kind of category as Roads – we could easily turn every road into toll road (user pay) but that would not be a sustainable model.

    And it would make our cities worse off. Just as they would be without the arts.

    The conversation is not a simple one, despite what the people writing the comments section of Global & Mail and CBC websites might want it to be.