Ask Canadians about their priorities for government spending, and funding for the arts and culture will turn up near the bottom of their hit parade (it routinely wrestles for last place with foreign aid). Anyone intimately involved in the sector, however, knows that the response of the “average” citizen masks deep differences within the population on the deemed importance of public support for the arts and culture. While the wisdom of funding symphonies, book publishers, museums and their ilk may be lost on the masses, legions of cultural bureaucrats, mavens and volunteers seem to spend their days lobbying policy-makers on the need for more funds for the arts. In fact, while it is rarely in the forefront of public debate, there may well be no single issue that divides elites and the general public more than this question.

The arguments in support of cultural funding, however, are many, varied, rarely coherent and most often revolve around questions as to which constituency within the arts and cultural community is in most need of, or would benefit most from, this support. Rarely stated, but always implicit, is the premise that Canadian culture (at least at this point) is not economically or commercially viable. Not even whispered, however, is the underlying belief that the average Canadian is not sufficiently interested in any of these forms of cultural expression to pay — either through taxes or at the box office — for our creator community, cultural industries or the public institutions that exhibit and host cultural events.