OTTAWA - Some of Canada's most recognizable film and television stars gathered Wednesday to push the value of homegrown culture and denounce Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a day after he characterized the arts community as government-subsidized whiners.

The performers -- including Colm Feore, Gordon Pinsent and Wendy Crewson -- noted that the arts provide 1.1 million jobs within cultural industries and contribute $86 billion to the GDP.

"I think Canadians understand (culture) is a catalyst for prosperity, that it attracts knowledge-based workers," Crewson, whose TV credits include "ReGenesis" and "24," said during a news conference organized by actors union ACTRA.

"That means more teachers, more doctors in our communities. I'm tired of being told (culture) doesn't matter."

The $45 million that the Conservative government cut from culture funding last summer could seriously damage their industry, the artists said.

"Stephen, the arts is the economy, stupid," said Karl Pruner, president of ACTRA Toronto.

"Why is it we talk about investing in the auto sector, investing in the energy sector, and handouts to the arts? Are we tired of this? I think so."

On Tuesday, Harper defended the cuts, saying ordinary Canadians cannot relate to "rich galas" where artists complain about their subsidies. He also noted that the overall budget of Canadian Heritage has climbed eight per cent.

The performers called on voters to reject the Tory cuts and demand that the government restore stable funding.

Feore said the arts are crucial to Canada's identity.

"And if we lose that, and lose sight of the value of that, it's going to be gone forever," he warned. "And there will be no bringing it back. The fact that it's economically viable and makes good business sense is just a bonus."

Premier Dalton McGuinty defended arts funding Wednesday as he announced an exhibit of Dead Sea scrolls at the Royal Ontario Museum.

"We attach high value to arts and culture ... which enriches us not only economically, but in so many other ways," McGuinty said.

"This is an important pursuit. It simply enriches the enjoyment of our lives (and) I think that's pretty powerful stuff. I think we should continue to find ways to support arts and culture."

McGuinty's culture minister, Aileen Carroll, was even stronger in her condemnation of Harper's criticism of the arts community.

"I'm very disappointed in what this (Conservative) government's approach has been," said Carroll, adding that arts in Ontario contribute $20 billion a year to the province's economy.

"I can't understand why everything we understand here in this province is not understood at the federal level. The comments yesterday just completely leave me flabbergasted."