Kerfuffle over the recent St. John’s budget with its cuts to investment in the arts and increases to the subsidy to St. John’s Sports and Entertainment betrayed much about town.

We plainly loves the hockey.  A goodly proportion of the games played by the various “Baby” teams St. John’s has hosted, “Leafs,” “Jets” or “Habs” have sold out.   The arena to house them is a boondoggle but so are most such facilities.

The subvention to St. John’s Sports and Entertainment picks up the tab for that predictable loss but is also a subsidy on ticket price.  We’ve been willing to help the fans have their fun and Danny Williams have his team because enough townies and brownbaggers have enjoyed going to the games. And it is alleged the team promotes St. John’s in places like Scranton and Utica.

Untitled-1I’ve asked around and the consensus is that Newfoundland and Labrador is a middling source of hockey talent.  We are net importers of professional sportsmen.  In the main the Ice Caps’ coaches and skaters pay their taxes and buy their homes elsewhere. We send our tax dollars offshore for the privilege of watching them play here.

The “Baby” teams are player development programs for the big league franchises so another portion of our money is a subsidy to the parent.  Taxpayers of St. John’s are chipping-in to help the Molsons pay their bills.

We are not nearly as partial to arts and culture.  In contrast to hockey, we produce a disproportionate number of artists for our population.  We make more art than we consume so are net exporters of artistic talent.  (By way of example Codco and then 22 Minutes have meant hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity in Halifax.)

And unlike hockey our puny investment in arts and culture (far, far below national averages) is not only spent almost entirely within the jurisdiction but leverages many multiples of itself from others.

In terms of exposing the city and the province to the world the architecture of the Fogo Island Inn has had a greater impact  than all the hockey games ever played here or in Pennsylvania.

I’m unsure whether watching sports entertainment encourages athleticism and fitness but do know that art stimulates the imagination.

Watching sports is passive, the games repeated patterns interrupted by jolts of disruption. Thus the “highlight reel.”  It is splendid diversion because most of it is predictable, the excitement can’t get too dangerous because of its inherent constraints; playing surface, periods, penalties for violating rules and so on.

Art asks the audience to engage, to be an active participant.  A Gerry Squires painting is one unrelenting highlight.  The best performances know the rules so well we pay for the thrill of watching them being broken. Of the most interesting stories nobody can agree on the final score.  City Council judges, and they might be correct, that this is of less interest to the citizens of St. John’s than AHL hockey.

Squaring public taste, our costly appetite for hockey, with the larger public interest is a considerable and emblematic policy challenge for the current St. John’s City Council. How they meet it likely describes the city’s future.