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?