You Don’t Slash a Nationally Renowned Arts Industry That Is Making Money to Compensate for One That Isn’t

Councillors are replaceable every election, but our nationally renowned arts scene is irreplaceable, going nowhere, and will be here waiting to bloom when the right councillors come along on a ballot.

The Arts Sector Generates Money: More Than $400 Million A Year in Fact

There is one way to interpret a 50% cut to a city’s Arts Sector: our city councillors believe the arts are a frivolous hobby, not a profession; they see the arts as a money bleed, not an industry; they think artists are lucky to get any scrap they doled out to them, and should be grateful, not revolting, when they chop the scraps in half. They’re wrong about all that.

We’re not leeches, we’re an industry. In fact, we’re an industry that fuels others: The Arts employ not only artists, but retailers who sell our wares. Those retailers have numerous employees. Think of city beacons of culture like Fred’s Records or the Christina Parker Art Gallery.

And The Arts do make money, investing in them is not about handouts, it’s about investing a little money that’ll go a long way. Statistics Canada says that in 2010, cultural industries in Newfoundland and Labrador generated 424 million dollars, while other “entertainment industries” like sports only contributed $49 million to total provincial GDP. Why aren’t stats like these part of the conversation around The Arts?

Of the city’s $302 Million Dollar Budget, the arts will receive $100,000. That’s 0.03%. Our city places that much value in a sector we are known for nationally? Like many citizens, the majority of our councillors just don’t get it: Arts grants are business grants, because the arts are a business – retailers sell art and books and music, and, artists aren’t hobbyists: we make money off what we make, from our publishers and producers, or ticket and album sales.

The Arts are also of benefit to other industries in a synergistic manner: Musicians help restaurants and bars fill seats, or conventions and cruise ship arrivals sail more smoothly.

It’s clear our city and province are hurting from oil sector lows, which only means one thing: we need some economic diversification: we put all our eggs in the oil basket, and look what happened. We should be watering healthy industries like our nationally renowned arts sector, not leaving them out to dry.

We’re Gutting the Gutted, and Pushing Away Productive Artists

Prior to this slash, The Arts industry here was already drastically under-funded. Based on stats from 2013, cities of comparable size clearly allot significantly more to The Arts – like Barrie, Ontario ($2.53 per capita) or Victoria, BC ($4.11 per capita), but us, the city of legendary arts culture, came up with $1.72 per capita in 2013.

If you’re not supporting your artists, they’ll move away and make their living elsewhere, promoting the arts industries of provinces other than our own. Just ask these recently emigrated local artists: Mark Bennett, David Blackwood, Kyle Bustin, Jordan Canning, Stephen Dunn, Don Ellis, Cathy Jones, Megan Greeley, Johnny Harris, Matthew Hornell, Joel Thomas Hynes, David Kaarsemaker, Jillian Keiley, Graham Kennedy, Susan Kent, Mary Lewis,   Mark O’Brien, and dozens and dozens more.

Unlike Most Industries, The Arts Build Bank AND Culture

From  a cultural standpoint, the arts industry not only produces products that generate money, it also generates a self-perpetuating scene and momentum, that in turn provides entertainment to boot.

Think about the impact art has on the world: in 2015, we still study the thoughts of dead authors in university, art galleries cash in big time on art by dead painters, and Bing Crosby’s Christmas albums are still selling. Like any good investment: art lasts forever. Unlike, say, a non-renewable resource.

And what kind of liveable city doesn’t have festivals and performances to entertain us, and, the tourists who fuel the tourism industry we so heavily rely on, financially? Without grants those things won’t get made so well or so easily.

To quote Festival of New Dance Director Calla Lachance, who is currently planning a huge national conference and showcase for 150 dance professionals from across Canada – who will spend money in our city. “I can’t help but feel a tad embarrassed, perhaps even a fool, to work so hard to show off our great city, to what end? So the City can ride the coat tails of our vibrant arts community while they simultaneously starve us and take us for granted?”

We’re Investing 0.03% of Our Budget into an Industry We’re Known for Nationally?

We have the privilege of living in a city known nationally for being an arts mecca of unparalleled proportions. The film scene here is booming more than ever, we have exportably good music in every genre, many of Canada’s favourite authors are from here, we were the only Canadian province with visual artists at this year’s highly esteemed Venice Biennale, etc, etc.

City council acknowledged that reality by cutting funding to the arts in half.

Too few people seem to know it, but Newfoundland is considered the country’s goldmine for Canadian fiction. I like going to Toronto and having people tell me how much they love our novelists – because ten years ago it was, “Tell me a Newfie Joke! Say something silly!” The Arts have played a big part in the cultural evolution and public perception of this province, and Arts Grants have been a helping hand.

One Night Proved We Don’t Need Your Support. But Could Use It

It’s odd that our city website would tout our booming arts scene as a reason to visit or live in St. John’s, while leaving it in the fine print they think it’s worth less than 1% of its budget. If there’s good news, it’s that good art will find its own way, and as a culture, the impulse to create and share art is bred in our bones.

December 16th – the day I heard of the arts cuts – I went to a house show, where performers were passing a hat for Syrian refugees. Songs were played not just by exceptionally talented musicians, but by multi-disciplinary folks, like the award-winning novelist Michael Winter, and award-winning filmmaker Jenina MacGillivray.

I just kept thinking, If you don’t know what this feels like. To live in this city. To see and hear and appreciate what I am experiencing right now, then don’t run for council here.

The night, simply put, was arresting, beautiful, and reassuring. We will find a way to make our art without our elected officials helping us do so. But we would bloom brighter with their support. Please reconsider your budget slash, and more importantly, please reconsider running for city council if you do not appreciate what truly makes this city so rich, real, liveable, and a tourist attraction: our small business and arts sectors.

If you swing a machete at small business and The Arts in this town, it’s your own value to us as council members you’re chipping away at. Councillors are replaceable every election, but our nationally renowned arts scene is irreplaceable, going nowhere, and will be here waiting to bloom when the right councillors come along on a ballot.

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7 Comments

  • 400 million for cultural industries may include arts, but i would say only a small portion of it. The movie and TV industry probably generates the most, followed by visual arts, with music at the bottom. Many artists pay for the production of their craft with their day job money, and receive little or no return on their investment. The goal of most art is just to break even and get it out there.

    these grants are important. The average musician in canada makes 12,000 a year. thats like being on welfare. Dont cut their funding any further. they cant afford it.

    • “The average musician in canada makes 12,000 a year. thats like being on welfare. Dont cut their funding any further. they cant afford it.”

      Sounds like an awesome reason to cut their funding, if I’m being honest. Why should other people’s money go to starving artists who can’t pay the bills? If their art was worth anything, they would be making money off it.

      Your comment and this entire article are a joke – it argues that these artists are productive, while also admitting the opposite – that they can’t make enough money and are “under-funded”. If I own a private business, and that business is “productive”, it means I can make enough money to continue running that business and I don’t need handouts from the government. If my business needs handouts from the government just to survive, then my business is by definition not productive. So, when this article claims that there are all of these productive artists who are “under funded”, I think the author is intentionally using a different definition of “productive”. What are these artists producing, exactly? Clearly, they are not producing money, because if they were, they wouldn’t be so “under-funded” and they wouldn’t be sticking their hands out for government money, feeling entitled to other people’s hard earned cash.

      If your art is good enough to make a living from, you don’t need handouts from the government. And if your art isn’t good enough to make a living from, then it doesn’t deserve government handouts. These handouts are an insult to any good artist whose art is good enough to generate real revenue. We don’t need government picking winners and losers in business, and we certainly don’t need government picking winners and losers in art. If your art is good enough to make others want to buy it, then you won’t be “under-funded”. If you hear an artist claiming that they are “under-funded”, it’s actually a confession of failure – an admission that their art is not good enough. They should take responsibility for it, and instead of whining about the arts being “under-funded”, they should work harder, make better art, and try to make more money. Instead, they use this “under-funded” excuse, which lays the blame at everyone else’s feet. Suddenly it’s not their fault that they can’t make it as an artist, it’s because the arts are “under-funded”.

      What a joke.

  • I moved from St. John’s to Toronto some 23 years ago to pursue Jazz Studies at University of Toronto. I’m a proud Newfoundlander who still talks of “Home” on a regular basis, and I return as often as I can. (In fact, I’ll be boarding a plane to St. John’s in a couple of hours.) I would love to return to the province to live, but as a musician, voice actor, and radio host, I have wondered if I might have a hard time sustaining a career in my artistic field(s). St. John’s City Council’s seemingly clear disdain for the arts makes it evident that not only will fewer artists be able to return home (ie: a tour that I was supposed to be doing on the Island is now potentially in jeopardy), but more artists will, indeed, be forced to bring their talents elsewhere in a attempt to carve out a living. Those who remain will be forced to either abandon some of their former artistic pursuits, or supplement them with other occupational activities that demand a division of time and focus, thereby “watering down” their art.

    I am still proud of my Home and the people and artistry therein. However, that pride is certainly not extended to the City Council!

  • This city has totally gone to shit to be honest. It’s the most mismanaged city in Canada from what I can tell. Since this budget was announced I know at least 10 people planning to move out of newfoundland, several in direct response to the budget. We are about to face huge hikes in power costs and now taxes on top of it. For seniors on a fixed income they will literally be left out in the cold. It’s going to cost far more to live here then it’s worth…perhaps it’s time to move on

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