On culture, New Brunswick is getting it right

 

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When the leaders of New Brunswick’s major political parties agree, it’s either cause for celebration or reason to head for the hills. After all, what are the odds that three public office holders of markedly dissimilar ideological pedigrees could be thoroughly right about a single issue on which they concur?

Generally, at least some degree of politically calculated equivocation imbues opposition response to an official announcement. But when it comes to developing the cultural sector in this province, Messrs. David Alward, Brian Gallant and Dominic Cardy truly are three musketeers in silk ties and summer suits.

For the sake one of the few sectors in this benighted neck of the woods that actually generates more insight than acrimony, let’s hope they stay that way.

Conservative Premier David Award is correct when he says – as he did last week – that “creativity is at the root of our growth as province and a people.” Would that more of this particular commodity sloshed around in the local economy. 

Still, it’s heartening to hear that his new and improved cultural policy, which updates an earlier iteration from 2002, reflects his government’s commitment to “provide the support to allow our creators to flourish.”

Given that the premier’s triumphant return to power in the fall is far from assured, it’s equally encouraging to hear Liberal tourism, heritage and culture critic Brian Kenny – presumably channelling his boss Mr. Gallant – state that “any time that we can give them (cultural entrepreneurs and workers) a helping hand and help them move forward is positive.” 

Indeed, enthused NDP Leader Dominic Cardy, “We’re happy to give this plan our support. Let’s make sure that the follow-through is there. . .Keep. . .supporting the arts and culture community.”  

For now, the plan is to pour an “additional $3 million” into this segment of the economy to, among other things, “increase operational funding for professional arts organizations; operating grants to New Brunswick’s key cultural institutions; funding for. . .professional artists, through the New Brunswick Arts Board; (and) funding for enhanced First Nations engagement processes as (these) relate to archaeological resources.”

The policy would also establish a Community Cultural Places program. . .“for organized and arms-length built heritage advocacy and. . .community museums.” It would “provide funding for activities related to community commemorations of historic events.” And it would reinstate and expand the “touring and presenting program for New Brunswick arts organizations and presenters.” 

We can, of course, argue whether three million bucks is enough to reach these goals. We can even debate whether the province can afford this comparatively modest sum, given the horrendous short- and long-term fiscal challenges it faces. 

What should be irrefutable, however, is the remarkable contribution that cultural industries make to the national and regional economies of this country.

Study after study – notably those by Statistics Canada and the Conference Board of Canada – have settled the case: The arts sector is the little engine the could, would and does, year after year, decade after decade.

“Our results demonstrate that culture is an indispensable part of the Canadian economy, permeating and adding value across the entire (spectrum). GDP from the culture sector amounted to more than $33 billion, on average, between 1996 and 2001. Similarly, the culture sector employed more than half-a-million workers, on average, over the same period. (Moreover) employment in the culture sector grew faster than that of the overall economy during this period.”

That’s an excerpt from a seminal 2004 study by StatsCan researcher Vik Singh. Four years later, the Conference Board added its own authoritative voice to the discussion: “Increasingly, countries around the world, as well as cities and regions, are recognizing the pervasive role that a dynamic culture sector plays as a magnet for talent, an enhancer of economic performance, and a catalyst for prosperity.”

The reason is simple: Talented, innovative, entrepreneurial people abhor a vacuum. If a community’s public spaces have nothing to offer beyond cinder blocks, parking lots, big-box stores and off-ramps, then business leaders won’t come. And, more importantly, if some do, they won’t stay. 

That’s something on which we can all agree and, now, our ritualistically fractious and partisan political leaders apparently do.

 

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