Breaking up the culture club

Garden15

In a budget that does little to up New Brunswick’s game in the big, wide world of economic competitiveness, the Gallant government’s decision to ‘trim’ $400,000 from ArtsNB seems malignly small-minded.

Freddy Beach’s recent talking points on the matter suggest that the move is designed to render the organization more accountable to the artists it supports by ensuring that more public money flows into the pockets of creators, and less into those of administrators.

This is the typical, chimerical argument that governments trot out whenever they decide to defend a frankly indefensible position. They get away with it for two reasons: First, the sums in question are almost too small to generate much widespread opposition; and second, who gives a fig about the arts when there are roads to build and natural resources to plunder?

But if the underlying argument is that arts and culture in New Brunswick – indeed, across Canada –comprise a shuddering economic sector, then the facts, which are easily accessible, say otherwise.

An Industry Canada monograph, updated in 2009, makes compelling points: “The cultural sector contributes $40 billion to Canada’s GDP and directly employs close to 600,000 Canadians. Cultural industries are a significant contributor to Canada’s economic growth. Examples of cultural goods include: books, newspapers, videos, compact discs, sculptures, paintings. Examples of cultural services are film production and post-production services, broadcasts, live artistic performances.

“In 2002 . . .Mining and Oil and Gas Extraction contributed only $35.4 billion. The Agriculture and Forestry industry contributed $21 billion to Canada’s GDP, approximately half that of the cultural sector. Put differently, cultural activities in 2002 amounted to a 3.8 per cent value-added contribution to Canada’s GDP.”

What’s more, between 1996 and 2001, employment in the cultural sector grew annually at 3.4 per cent, which outpaced the overall national rate. And this measurement only included “direct jobs created”, not the indirect ones generated over this period.

Statistics Canada’s 2010 report on the industry may be even more persuasive. It said, “Culture industries accounted for 3.2 per cent of the total output in Canada, reaching $99.3 billion (in that year). GDP of culture industries was $53.2 billion, contributing 3.4 per cent to Canada’s total GDP. Of which culture products accounted for $40.7 billion and other products (i.e., non-culture products), $12.5 billion.

“In 2010, the total number of jobs in Canada was 17.3 million. Culture industries accounted for 703,900 (of these), a four per cent share. This includes jobs associated with the production of culture and non-culture products.

The largest contributors to the GDP of culture industries (presented by domain) were: Audio-visual and interactive media ($13.8 billion) followed by Visual and Applied Arts  ($13.4 billion), Written and published works ($10.1 billion), and Governance, funding and professional support ($8 billion).”

Still, in the face of these facts, governments continue pandering to stereotypical perceptions of arts administrators as lazy and artists as feckless – the latter needing either abandonment (if the reigning political class is Conservative) or infantilizing (if the government of the day is avowedly Liberal).

In New Brunswick, though, the arts and culture sector play an enormously important role in shoring up the bulwarks against this province’s final socio-economic dissolution.

Apart from the GDP, job and export numbers they represent, musicians, writers, sculptors, and painters (among many others) promote the broader virtues of literacy, numeracy and critical thinking – in fact, all features of solid primary, secondary and post-secondary systems of education.

They remind us that we, all of us, are invested in both past and future.

That’s a benignly large-minded act of creation to embrace.

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