By any standard, the province of BC gets a failing grade in arts-based economic development. You may find the four information sources here interesting. (Click on each image to see larger version, or click links for reports.) We need to develop graphics like these for Vancouver as well as for the whole province of BC. We do of course already have a great deal of information for BC, including the government’s own data which clearly demonstrates that for every dollar invested in arts in BC, at least $6 is returned to BC government coffers within one year. This is known as the “multiplier effect” but the government tends to discount it for reasons that remain unexplained. We demand an explanation.
Secondly, when you look at tourism alone, things get even more interesting. Recent Canadian data, for instance, shows that in terms of tourism, arts tourism brings NINE TIMES the cash into Canada as sports tourism does. This figure comes from “Canadian Heritage – The Economic of Cultural and Sport Tourism in Canada 2007” which in turn derives much of its data from Statscan. These figures are for international tourism, including tourism from the USA. Yet governments invest heavily in sports teams, arenas and stadiums— far more heavily than they do in arts. The question must be asked: why? For political points?
As an aside, it’s interesting to see how low down on the totem pole Toronto’s casino is in its tourism revenues – at the bottom. It’s the same point we made when we defeated the megacasino proposed for downtown Vancouver (attached to our sports stadium, no less). [It seems more and more evident that charities including arts received massive cuts to gaming grants at the same time the BC Place Stadium roof budget went from 100+ million to 400+ million - a roof renovation demanded by a US casino company that had a faulty business plan involving non-existent tourism and that had not yet secured city permission to build.]
For both the reasons given above—the multiplier effect and tourism data—arts subsidy is clearly a lucrative public investment. So what’s the government’s excuse for these economy-harming cuts? Arts investment is not charity. It’s an industrial subsidy, just like the subsidies every other industry in BC receives, whether by strategic infrastructural assistance or other forms of support. Why has the arts, a key and growing sector in the global economy, been singled out for demolition here? The only rational answer can be that it’s ideological: the unique role of arts in public life, critical thinking, and the questioning public sphere must be the reason. Because the removal of subsidies (and jobs) has certainly not being imposed for economic reasons. If the government were truly being run by an “economy-friendly” party, this wouldn’t be happening. It is in fact being run by a party in which ideology trumps economic competence. Government cuts have now precipitated an almost unprecedented and accelerating talent brain drain from BC that will be dogging us for decades to come. And that’s just the brain drain component—add to it the many damaging economic disadvantages this failure to invest in the arts brings, and you get a pretty accurate picture of a mess.
Cities and towns are only as good as their arts sector. No planning experts anywhere dispute this. The arts draw businesses and educated people from afar, they act as a matrix for a host of other industries, contractors and services, and they’re generally key to healthy GDP. Not to mention that the creative sector is one of the greenest industries around. Again, arts are a massive global growth sector, key to the most lucrative forms of tourism, and this government doesn’t just lack a plan to avail BC of these opportunities; it actually aims to destroy the sector. Write a quick two sentence email to your MLA. Email addresses are here. If you’re on Twitter, let @ChristyClarkBC know how you feel. Remember that Rich Coleman when Gaming Minister made arts ineligible for gaming revenues. Gambling was only expanded in BC to pay for arts and other charities and non-profits, and the cuts are actually illegal. Tell Christy Clark to deal with this problem immediately.
Thanks to one of our twitter friends for directing us to these infographics.
To see the extent of Toronto and Ontario’s innovative thinking about its creative sector, see this PDF: Creative Capital Gains: An Action Plan for Toronto.
Meanwhile, in other cities in BC, the madness continues…
A final note: The problem there is that unless we have state investment in culture, people don’t have access to culture. Until they have access to culture and its benefits for themselves and their children, they don’t understand its necessity. Unless they demand culture, politicians don’t then pander to that desire. It’s a cart before horse problem that besets BC far more than other provinces. Ontarians and Quebeckers are proud of their homegrown culture, while BCers haven’t learned to demand and protect it. Culture then languishes and its cultural sector increasingly uncompetitive with other regions, and we lose out both socially and economically. Government must take the lead.