Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's poet laureate quits over cuts to arts funding

George Murray won't be writing any more poetry for the City of St. John's after the 2016 budget slashed funding for artists and art programs.

George Murray calls city budget 'shortsighted and offensive.'

George Murray said he can't be employed as an advocate for the arts community, when the city is cutting its grants to other artists. (CBC)

George Murray won't be writing any more poetry for the City of St. John's after the 2016 budget slashed funding for artists and art programs.

Murray handed in his resignation as poet laureate on Friday, sending a letter to city council that called the budget "shortsighted and offensive."

He asked council to take his remaining salary, $10,000 over the next two years, and return it to the pool of money that supports working artists and their organizations.

"The budget you have handed down has made not only a liar out of me, but fools of us all. You should each be ashamed of what you have done," Murray wrote.

"My post as the poet laureate is to be an ambassador for the arts and culture sector in the St. John's area," he said in an interview Friday with CBC television's Here and Now.

"It felt as though I couldn`t continue to be an advocate for the sector if I were taking a pay cheque while everyone else was getting cut."

Arts grants were cut by 50 per cent, or $100,000 in the 2016 budget — passed by city council Dec. 14.

A $20,000 per year art procurement program has also been eliminated.

"These cuts are deep. They're not going to do anything economically or socially for the city," said Murray.

Murray has accused St. John's city council of sacrificing arts and encouraging development. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"All they're very much going to do is reduce the capacity of artists to produce the kind of work that the public, not just here but across the country and the world, comes here to see."

Calls council pro-development

Murray, who has written seven books of poetry, and speaks at schools and conferences said the arts play a big role in creating a place people want to live in and visit.

He said while councillors Sandy Hickman and Dave Lane advocate for the arts, it's not enough.

"I was very disappointed in this council. I've been disappointed in it for some time, with a lot of different decisions, whether they're development decisions, heritage decisions and cultural decisions."

Murray's letter to council goes further.

"Your development-at-all-cost style of governing is as antiquated as it is misguided," he wrote. "The idea that you would trade our culture to pander to oil and big business is offensive and silly."

Murray's letter of resignation has drawn reaction from across the country, much to his surprise, and he has a message for his now former employer.

"If the city decides to listen to its constituents and repeal this part of the budget, I'm willing to continue as poet laureate, but I cannot work and be a representative for a city that would make these kinds of cuts because a city that would make these kinds of cuts doesn't deserve a poet laureate."

The local arts community, meanwhile, is organizing a support the arts demonstration outside St. John`s city hall on Monday, at 4 p.m.


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