Wanna burn a party card?

David F. Rooney
David F. Rooney

I am, to quote Howard Beale, the mad prophet in that 1976 old Hollywood satire, Network, “as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I am mad. I am very ticked off with the BC Liberals and Premier Gordon Campbell for the state of our provincial economy and I am particularly angry with their cuts to the already-meager grants that arts and culture groups subsist on each year.

I am so mad that I am going to burn my BC Liberal Party card in public on Saturday at 11 a.m. in front of Revelstoke City Hall. I invite other Liberals who are equally disgusted to join me. This is not ideological. I remain a committed free enterpriser and I have nothing but the greatest respect for the party’s last candidate, Mark McKee, and the BC Liberals I know in Columbia River-Revelstoke.

Arts and culture are important to our communities. Places like the Revelstoke Museum & Archives, the Railway Museum and the BC Interior Forestry Museum represent our collective memory. The Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre seeks to help local artists express all of our hopes, dreams and aspirations. It and the Revelstoke Arts Council are the embodiment of our collective imagination. The BC Liberals, it seems, don’t want British Columbians to have a memory. They prefer us to have Alzheimer’s and forget where we come from. The Liberals, it appears, would rather we had no imagination. They would rather we were dull and apathetic.

By hacking away $20 million in Direct Access grants, the government is pulling the plug on arts and culture in our province. Jobs will be lost, programs that Revelstoke’s museums and public art centre had offered individuals and families will be pared back or eliminated, exhibitions will not be shown and, in effect, our lives will be duller than they should be.

I am not just a journalist. I am a painter, too, and a founding member and first chairman of the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre. We started that up with a budget of about $3,000 and watched it grow slowly and painfully over the last five years to the point where we finally managed a small surplus. We did it with small donations from the public, the small fees paid by parents to enroll their children in art programs and grants from the Columbia Basin Trust and the Direct Access grants created to legitimize government-controlled gambling in our province. Our budgets have grown over the years but we are not now and likely never will be an institution that has bags of cash in its coffers. I write these words because I am a part of the arts community in our city and our province. And there are many others like me: people who have a day job that pays the bills and a dream job that allows them creativity, as painters, photographers, potters, musicians, writers, actors and dancers. Until now, we have been fortunate to have some access to the small amounts of money we need to keep those dreams and activities alive for our community. Artists in our community teach children how to dream just as the curators and historians bring our past to life. The terrific men and women who dedicate their time and energy to improving our museums teach our children that what happened 50 or 100 years ago still matters today. They help them explore their own families’ roots by dusting off the past and pointing them at the future through their own remarkable exhibitions and programs from the Heritage Explorers Program and Brown Bag History series to exhibitions like the first-class Chinese Legacies exhibitions that the Revelstoke Museum & Archives and the Railway Museum jointly mounted. Each of our city’s museums offers our people a different window on community life, a different perspective and a different way to come together.

None of Revelstoke’s arts and culture groups are rich. We scrape by year after year and we do a pretty good job of offering the citizens of Revelstoke opportunities to act, to paint, to sculpt, to see ballet, to hear concerts, to visualize the past and dream about the future. We offer them the chance to grasp a part of our humanity that is so easily overlooked by the rat race we so often find ourselves trapped in. We offer them real and fulfilling alternatives to the empty temptations of the modern media of television, Wiis, Gameboys and Xboxes.

Take away our funding and we’ll be very hard pressed to offer anyone anything at all.

All of the institutions affected — and that is every single one in Revelstoke — were told that “given global economic circumstances, the provincial government has had to establish priorities for community gaming grants.”

“Global economic circumstances?” Who says? Didn’t this same government say just nine months ago that, while we’d be down $495 million,  things were essentially fine in B.C.?

Sure they did. And now we’re also being told the real cost of the recession is $2.8 billion. I don’t like to admit it — after all I worked for the BC Liberal campaign in Columbia River-Revelstoke during the last election — but I don’t believe what they’re saying about anything right now.

The letters claim that what money there is will be going to support low-income and disabled people and provide food, shelter and support to “at-risk” individuals, community health-care programs and others.

Excuse me. But isn’t that just a little ham-fisted? By making those claims, and as far as I’m concerned they are unverifiable, government is attempting to make it impossible for anyone to protest the cuts without seeming like a wretch or a cur. They would like non-artists to think that artists and others who protest are selfish dogs who would grab a crust from a starving orphan. That’s such twaddle. The majority of categories they claim the grants should go to do deserve funding — but they should be directly funded as a result of normal government funding.

Is this really about the recession, which the feds and a heck of a lot of economists are saying is over? Or is it really about the cost to taxpayers of the Olympics?

I don’t know and I don’t pretend to know. Either way, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

I’m going to burn my party membership card on Saturday, Sept. 5, at 11 a.m. in front of City Hall. If you’re a Liberal and you’d like to do the same, please join me. I’ll bring the marshmallows.