Most of us would agree that art and culture are important to our identity and way of life in Canada. While we have a long history of “punching above our weight” on the world stage, producing a long list of highly successful artists in numerous disciplines, the reality for most in the arts community is not so glamorous. Many artists barely live above the poverty line. While they live materially sparse lives, their quality of life is enriched through giving back to their communities, teaching others, developing new skills and helping to shape the thought and identity of our country.
When someone makes the choice to pursue a career in the arts, it is often done with the knowledge that the odds of prosperity and financial security are stacked against them. While this type of informed decision may be used by some to justify cutting public funding to arts programs, the reality is that the work of people who are dedicated to the artistic heritage of our country benefits everybody both culturally and financially. Here’s how:
My own experience on the matter is in the music realm, so that’s where I’ll start. Musicians are always the last to get paid. The money that artistic performances generate goes right back into the community. Managers, labels, agents, technicians, printers, promoters, manufacturers and everyone directly involved in the music industry get paid first. Millions more are employed by the arts in almost every sector of the economy. Concert halls, festivals, distribution houses, museums, theaters, pubs, coffee shops and every other type of venue for the arts employ people. When artists travel the country, often by car, they are generating revenue and income everywhere they travel, including the small towns that make up the rural backbones of our economy. It is a pretty safe bet that on any given night, there are dozens of bands spending the night in hotels in small regional hubs such as Thunder Bay, Golden, Brandon or Lethbridge. Even if the locals never go to a show, their economies see the benefit of touring bands. The livelihoods of gas station attendants, hotel employees, bartenders, waiters, mechanics and Value Village employees across this country are directly linked to the health of Canada’s creative economy.
According to the government’s own studies, every dollar spent on arts funding brings back more than a dollar in tax revenue. Investing in arts infrastructure is like investing in forestry – if we put public money in to it, it will stimulate industry and business growth in both pubic and private sectors – which will employ people and bring tax dollars back in to the system. Forestry investment creates jobs in tree-rich areas, arts investment creates jobs in arts communities.
Unfortunately, I think arts funding is sometimes sold to us as artistic welfare for a small group of self-important elitists – whereas I believe it is a deep foundational affirmation that our society believes that creative thinking is important. Would we rather our kids to watch television all weekend than to take music lessons? Acting classes? Pottery? Dancing? Are we more interested in reality television than we are in reality? Heaven forbid we should raise individuals that add to and affect the world around them, rather than simply be affected by it.
As I mentioned before, Canada has always punched above its weight in terms of the entertainment industry. The amount of worldwide superstars we’ve created (Bryan Adams, Celine Deon, Shania Twain, Nelly Furtado, Jim Carey, Mike Myers), not to mention critically acclaimed artisans that this country has spawned (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, David Cronenberg, Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland) is simply astounding considering Canada’s population size. This is not a coincidence. It is because we have traditionally fostered a society that promotes from within, that gives young minds the fuel, confidence and integrity to investigate whatever creative paths they seek to wander. The other thing to take in to account is that all of these people bring the world’s attention back to Canada. It’s like cultural advertising, influencing tourism and investment our way, pulling in international dollars.
It’s hard to look long term or big picture with any issue, but Canadian heritage and culture are so dear to me and most people I know. Mr. Dressup, Anne Of Green Gables, The Logdriver’s Waltz (any National Film Board cartoon, for that matter), Kids In The Hall, CBC 1/2/3, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Stompin Tom Connors, Farley Mowat, Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, W.O. Mitchell, Atwood, Coupland – all of these entities and more have shaped us to be a small country with big ideas, internationally respected for our diplomacy, our humour, our art, our resources and our way of life. I would feel so ashamed to lose that heritage of respect.