Your Annual Investment in Local Artists is Less Than the Cost of a Bag of Chips

Funding for the arts in this province is an annual taxation burden on each citizen of less than the cost of a bag of chips, less than the price on one small bag of salt and vinegar chips.


Bay of Exploits with Ed Riche

I recently heard an enterprising young man explain how studio space was being developed in his town to attract artists. It was part of an effort to revitalize the place.

It’s a sound idea. Arts and culture make communities livable. The Arts attract and retain young people. They function as research and development for popular entertainment and the crafts which are, in turn, cornerstones of tourism. Art stimulates the imagination and so fosters innovation. The “multiplier” on arts funding is demonstrably high, the money, almost all of it used for job creation, rushes around the local economy. And unlike dead-end necessities like policing, something concrete comes of it. (Art shouldn’t need any justification but these are reactionary times in Canada.)

So critical are artists to New York’s life that Mayor Bill de Blasio is proposing subsidizing their housing in an effort to stem their flight from that city’s high cost of living.

Governments in the developed world generally fund artists through grants. These provide seed capital and serve as a subsidy on “ticket price.” Were it not for such investment art and culture would be the exclusive privilege of a wealthy elite.

The problem we face in Newfoundland and Labrador is that we don’t fund artists in any meaningful way. Those “arts spaces” are going to go empty because no one is paying the artists to practice in them.

Of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council’s embarrassing $2.1 million budget, after operational cost and sustaining grants to organizations, a paltry $700,000 is left to directly fund individual artists’ projects. That is not a typo, $700,000 per year for every painting, poem, print, dance, novel, sculpture, short story, photograph, play, and tune in Newfoundland and Labrador. That funding is an annual taxation burden on each citizen of less than the cost of a bag of chips, less than the price on one small bag of salt and vinegar chips.

We have arts administration, government cultural bureaucracy, arts and culture plant and arts education, we have discipline- by-discipline advocacy groups, we have recently added Business and The Arts to the mix. We have it all but appreciable funding for artists.

This province which we tout as has having such a vibrant cultural scene is a blessedly peaceful place. Yet we spend two hundred times as much on policing and corrections as we do providing grants to artists. There are more than 10 fee-for-service physicians who individually make more annually than the total of all direct funding to all artists. The fees for one more of those good doctors would double, DOUBLE the direct funding to all artists in Newfoundland and Labrador from provincial grants. “Wellness” anyone?

If we are not going to adequately fund professional artists to make art we should end the charade and eliminate the activities predicated on it, re-purpose the cultural spaces, reassign the civil servants and cease teaching it in schools and university.

The collapse of several fisheries, the winding-up of the pulp and paper business, the closure of mines and the bust of the oil boom tells government they must radically refocus on the other sort of natural resource, the imagination.

Spending on the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council is a shameful 0.03% of the provincial budget. The coming budget must increase that, at the very least, tenfold. That gesture will have an insignificant influence on the province’s bottom line but dramatically lift the sector. Nowhere else would so little spending have such a profound and immediate impact. For better or worse Government has been preoccupied with making it easy to extract and ship our resources. Diversification is no longer a choice but a necessity for survival, isn’t it time to readjust the balance ever so slightly toward acts of creation?


  • Thank you, Ed for writing on this issue. It’s been decades of painting, teaching, and total frustration when it comes to selling art work in this province. Many artist have their very own gallery which is actually their own homes. Hung on the walls, tucked into corners, behind sofas, under beds, in atticks and anywhere else they can store their beautiful creations. This is prevelant since most artist are extremely lucky to sell a few paintings a year let alone have their work actually provide a living wage. Most depend on family, husbands or wives, and work other jobs to keep heads above water, so to speak. What we need is public support, advertisements, much much more funding etc. Thanks again for bringing the plight of the Newfoundland Artist to the attention of the public.

    • The article went fairly viral on Facebook and Twitter, so there was a lot of discourse in those channels … but sadly mostly among artists.

  • A couple of points…
    1. Our small, well-ignored and well-un-funded, team presented a multi-media Installation last summer at Sound Symposium (it’s a walk-through melange of sound and video, a play on the term Digiphrenia, please see the link). Luckily, we were hard to place in a ‘space’ and at the last minute Dave Hopley allowed us to use the old Johnny Ruth space beside Scanlon’s on Water street. There was tons of walk-by traffic as the weather was great, and as I had to man it mostly myself, I was ever-present on the street and in receiving visitors. Most repeated comment: “we need more stuff like this here”. Complete strangers were intrigued by simply stepping inside. The only other thng to do on Water street is shop or get a coffee – life is more than espresso and shopping. Young people were blown away (regardless of if they “liked it” or not – several arts students said how cool it was to have it at street level, “like in NYC” (just check the videos on the link to see the life of the city meeting the ‘whatever it is’ of our art). One 16 year old, commented that the cacophony of the installation/concept reminded him of the Beatles ‘Revolution #9’ – Holy Shit! he REALLY got it and he was only 16!!! it was truly a ‘live object’ sitting in the middle of downtown for a week, then it disappeared. Aside from that, NO arts community involvement came our way (I mean, nothing came of our efforts, even though it’s the coolest piece of media art between Montreal and Barcelona. Yes, I can prove it.) We may as well have been begging for a handout as presenting our art, as NOTHING comes of it here! I tried to get it shown at the Rooms, no way – not even under some ‘new voices’ BS or something like that. Same with the local NFB, who are known for digital media art!!!
    2. I’ve been lobbying for media/digital art input from govt. since I returned here in 2003, and I’ve been banging my head against a very THICK wall. They’re thick, to be sure. You truly would not believe the story, and yet it’s me who’s seen as ‘antagonistic’ because I try to open closed minds, and I’m generally outcast. I couldn’t even get any grant help, as since I lived in Eastern Europe when I evolved my interests/art, I’m not locally recognized. (I’m so very sorry to offend you with my attempt to open my mind by trying to see the world from a different perspective!) And without input or community involvement, your art sort of moves to the back seat. A WELL-known photographer in NY whom I was friends with in Europe wrote me the other day and said he remembered me as the “funniest, most creative person he’d ever met”. I had forgotten that I was like that. Since I returned here, my art/creative self nosedived into the abyss. Christ, they wouldn’t even know what they were looking at, those who dole it out. I guess if I were painting clothes-lines I’d be ‘considered’? I’ve seen grant money go to the same old same-old’s for so long that I stopped looking. I agree there’s not enough, but there’s also very little vision in understanding how to evolve art here. I’m not sure they’re ever going to learn. Doling out 1500 bucks for a treatment for a script by someone who has already written a book – and I DO agree they should get the 1500 – is not evolving an art scene, it’s maintaining the status quo of narrow focus, of clique-driven merit, and of telling your youth to move to Toronto. It sucks here. When I lived in .cz, the artist David Cerny was asked what his advice was for young people, he said ‘get out of here’.

  • Not many will recognize my name, but I have been a visual artist for 35 years . Even though I apply, I have not received a grant from NL Arts Council since well before last century, and never even once from Canada Council . Cest la vie !

  • well said and oh so true, there is no better return on investment then with an investment into the arts. It’s a win win with everyone benefiting from it. A solid investment for the next generation of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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