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Guest post by Shannon Litzenberger

In April I spent a considerable amount of time researching relative provincial spending levels on arts and culture across the country. It was budget season and so I read a lot of throne speeches and analyzed a dozen budget documents, comparing figures from this year to last. For a couple of weeks, I was the goddamn Nancy Drew of 2010 public arts spending commitments.

The result was this article, which first appeared in The Dance Current print magazine’s Summer Annual 2010. Learn more >> http://www.thedancecurrent.com.

Post-Recession Budgeting and the Fate of Arts Investment

The arts community braced for impact as 2010 provincial budgets were unveiled across the country and governments articulated their public spending priorities. Federally, year two of stimulus spending is still in effect and the arts sector continues to see some benefit from these investments. Provincially, however, most governments are already scanning public spending line by line in hopes of identifying unnecessary expenditures.

Maintaining and creating jobs, while protecting essential services were the trending words in budget speeches from coast to coast. Basically every industry sector has associated jobs, so the real question is which jobs are being protected and created? Manufacturing? Trades? Health Services? Education? Environment? Energy? Arts and Culture? At a time of spending restraint, one would expect governments to seek relatively low-cost investments that produce significant returns. The arts sector makes a compelling case, with over 600,000 jobs, its considerable $46 billion GDP impact, and the multiplying effect an invested arts dollar has on the economy. Given this extraordinary potential for economic, not to mention social, returns, why haven’t more governments viewed the arts as a strategic investment in Budget 2010? Here’s what happened across the country.

After BC’s Liberal Government first proposed an eventual 92 % decrease to cultural spending in the province – a move that would have essentially decimated the BC arts scene – the arts sector poised for battle. During pre-budget consultations concerted efforts on the part of local arts advocates, assisted by sympathetic voices across the country, resulted in a unanimous recommendation from the BC Standing Committee on Finance to restore cultural investment to 2008/09 levels. However, Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, confirms: “Arts funding was not restored to 2008/2009 levels… In fact what we have seen are further cuts to core funding for a total loss of 32.4 per cent from funding levels in 2008/09.” Vancouver-based Canadian Dance Assembly President Jim Smith explains that BC Gaming Commission contributions to the arts have been cut 58% and the BC Arts Council has been cut 53% from 2008/09, reducing core support for the creation of cultural experiences like those that thrilled audiences in Canada and world-wide during the 2010 Olympics. A new $10 million annual fund for arts and sport was introduced, though no further details about the fund are available. Smith reflects, “I expect, as a direct result of these cuts, in a year or two, a significant number of arts organizations will no longer be in operation.”

The Alberta government identified savings through a government-wide expenditure review. Fourteen Ministry budgets were reduced including Culture and Community Spirit, which was cut by $35 million (15%) overall. According to Kathi Sundstrom, general manager of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, it’s currently unclear as to where within the culture envelope cuts will be applied. “We’ve been advised by the Minister and his staff that cuts are to be expected, though we don’t yet know how cuts will be applied to individual programs.”

Saskatchewan was the only province not in a deficit position going into Budget 2010. Arts investment was maintained at 2009/10 levels and notably, the new cultural policy “Pride of Saskatchewan” was recently launched. It reflects extensive dialogue and consultation with the arts, culture and heritage sector, and was developed to align cultural, community and commercial activities for the social and economic benefit of the province. It articulates broad goals of “fostering artistic excellence, creativity, stewardship, public access, community capacity and economic growth.”

Manitoba’s budget was presented as year one of a five-year economic plan, projecting a deficit to 2014. There was no mention of arts and culture spending in the plan, though Randy Joynt, general manager of Winnipeg’s TRIP dance company reports that this year, Manitoba’s NDP government has maintained funding for the Department of Culture, Heritage and Tourism at 2009/10 levels.

Ontario’s budget was silent on culture and the creative industries, though the main estimates indicate that the newly combined Ministry of Tourism and Culture budget will increase by $31 million. Micheline McKay of The Arts Advocate notes that, “… the amalgamation of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture makes comparison challenging without more in-depth information, which is not available at this point.” Perhaps most affecting for the Ontario cultural sector in the forthcoming fiscal year will be the transition to the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). An HST task force has been working to assess the potential impact, and ease the transition for arts businesses that are currently exempt from charging PST on products and services.

In Quebec, culture is acknowledged as a source of pride as well as a sector that generates wealth and employment. The budget outlines new investment in infrastructure to support the construction of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s new concert hall, and the completion of the Quartier des Spectacles, among other projects. The Quebec arts sector is also pleased at the renewal of $3 million in annual investment to “support the presence of Quebec artists abroad”, mitigating the impact of cultural funding cuts for international touring by the federal government in 2008.

Andrew Terris of ARTS NOVA Cultural Research and Consulting reports that the Nova Scotia arts community’s high expectations for the province’s new NDP government were dashed when the Culture Division lost $1.1 million, half transferred elsewhere and half listed as “one-time investments”. Meanwhile, other government departments received budget increases totaling $376 million. In New Brunswick, a slight decrease to the Department of Wellness, Culture and Sport is proposed, with savings to be found explicitly within the culture component of the Ministry. In Newfoundland and Labrador cultural investment remains unchanged. At the time of writing, the PEI budget had not yet been announced.

The Northwest Territories’ budget made key investments under the heading ‘Supporting our Economy, including “$100,000 to assist artists with the production, advertising and marketing of their products and $200,000 to increase support for arts and culture with increased grants to individuals and organizations to promote the NWT and to create employment in arts and culture industries”. Nunavut reported no specific cultural spending.

Looking forward, it will be, without question, up to the arts sector itself to lead the way toward the change it wants and needs. We will have to find allies, forge partnerships and build bridges with other sectors in order to mobilize the critical mass needed to effect change. One of the challenges we face is that arts and culture is often a silo in policy and investment frameworks. As such, investment decisions regarding arts and culture are compared with spending options in other competing sectors such as health, education, industry, and business. However, in practice, culture is not a silo. It permeates many sectors of society and our economy. Arts and culture play a role in economic development, they are part of our public infrastructure, a catalyst for business development, a contributor to health and wellbeing and they play a meaningful role in our children’s education.

There is an opportunity ahead. We must work to demonstrate how arts and culture are integral in advancing growth and development in many sectors of society and ensure that every community integrates arts and culture into their social, economic and cultural planning frameworks. Until we do that, arts and culture risk being forced into the margins in the context of a post-recession mindset that eliminates frills and targets spending on what the public perceives to be core industries and essential services.

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