The Arts in British Columbia are in terrible trouble. The good news is, you can help. TWISI is dedicated to lending its support to artists and all those who love and patronize the Arts in British Columbia, and strongly encourages you, regardless of where you live, to check out this great website to learn more about The Arts Cuts in BC.
This is an article reposted from that will give you an introduction to the cause and hopefully will prompt you to lend your voice to demand that the government of British Columbia change its plan to cut Arts and Culture in that province by a whopping 90%:
Why is a grey square the symbol of cuts to arts funding in British Columbia? Because grey is how arts and culture will look in BC after the Liberal government cuts more than 90% of BC arts funding by 2011.
Even prior to these cuts, the BC arts and culture sector received almost the least arts funding of any Canadian province, a miniscule 1/20 of 1% of the provincial budget. That amount, while crucially important to the arts sector, is generally considered a negligible portion of the budget. The actual numbers: $47 million will be reduced to $3 million in two years, and down to about 2.65 million by 2012. This is almost a 92% cut. For the sake of comparison, cuts in other sectors range from 9%-29%. (For more specifics on how and where the cuts are being carried out – and it’s complicated – see the “Why are the cuts so confusing?” section below.)
No other province has cut arts funding during this recession. Many provinces have actually increased funding, because it is proven that this is a form of stimulus that works for the whole economy, recession or no. Furthermore, the culture industry is a lucrative and growing industry, one that is quickly overtaking many failing traditional sectors, in BC as well as around the world. Seed investment doesn’t just make sense; we cannot afford not to stimulate culture. Why in a recession are the BC Liberals saying they can’t afford this negligibly small subsidy, when they are contradicted by all the available research, including their own?
The BC Liberals have lately stated that there’s a choice to be made between supporting the arts and “feeding starving children.” Even according to the government’s own studies this dichotomy is entirely false, and the BC Liberals know it. This government has almost the worst record in Canada regarding child poverty, and it earned that title many years before we were hit with the recession and the Olympics. In actual fact, despite the massive $5.2 billion contribution made by the arts to the provincial GDP, arts workers tend to live at the poverty level themselves, and they too have families and bills to pay. Furthermore, it has been proven in multiple studies that arts workers and a healthy arts sector help to ameliorate the social conditions of poverty for others. Arts funding costs the province virtually nothing, and it certainly does not take food out of the mouths of children. We will not tolerate damaging falsehoods from a poverty-creating government. You can’t spend 100’s of millions on Olympic security and 486 million for a gleaming new retractable stadium roof and then invoke starving children.
We are calling on the minister responsible for the Arts, Kevin Krueger, to either start sincerely defending the arts sector, or resign. Stewarding the culture sector is, after all, his job. And unless our sector’s already tiny – but crucial – level of arts funding is fully restored, we also call for the resignations of the de facto Arts Minister Rich Coleman, head of Gaming; Colin Hansen, Minister of Finance who controls tax revenues; and Premier Gordon Campbell. The people of BC, at least 75% of whom support arts funding, have never given the BC Liberals a mandate to cut the arts and culture sector by 90%. If the BC Liberals go through with these cuts, they’ll be seriously betraying public trust.
The Social Arguments for Public Arts Funding
Ideally the social arguments for arts support would take priority over economic ones, but when we are talking about money, they tend to come second. Countless books have been written on the crucial role of the arts in society; we can only give a short summary here. Loss of a vibrant cultural sector has been proven in study after study to correlate to diverse social problems including poor psychological and even physical health, lowered intellectual ability, damage to peace and civil society, and lowered socioeconomic health. This is why UNESCO states that access to culture is a basic human right. Culture’s contribution starts early. Lack of exposure to the arts is clearly correlated to problems in children: lowered intelligence, lower academic performance, as well as problems with truancy, social interaction and concentration. Loss of a healthy cultural sector is clearly related to the social ills of prejudice, intolerance, violence, delinquency, poor critical thinking, groupthink and the stagnation of towns and cities. These social ills are just as worrying as the economic ills of lowered innovation and productivity across the whole economy. When a region has no distinct cultural sphere of its own, it also suffers a general loss of public pride, cultural sovereignty, and identity. Whether people realize it or not, the arts help determine who we are as citizens and British Columbians, and they expand our individual potential. Douglas Coupland is right: a culture without a stable arts base is a parking lot. And as musician Dan Mangan points out, BC, despite its tiny population, has been a heavy hitter on the cultural world stage. British Columbians can be proud of this fact. Let’s not erase it.
Economic Arguments in Favour of Public Arts Funding
Arts funding, as studies worldwide and in BC have repeatedly shown, is a lucrative investment that makes strong economic sense. According to the government’s own calculations, every dollar given to the arts comes back immediately as 1.36 in general revenue, and that figure is actually much higher when you take spinoff industries that rely on the arts (tourism, IT, film etc.) into account – studies show it’s anywhere from $6-$12 and sometimes higher. These are whopping returns on investment – certainly better than playing the stock market. Oddly, the government knows that the arts sector is a productive economic driver and a major employer, that culture is central to social well-being and liveability, and that the arts are inspensible to tourism, and yet it persists in deceptively implying the arts are a “frill.” Why? Is it that the arts sector been singled out for demolition because the government is pandering to a certain type of voter, or because its economic focus ignores small business and smaller organizations (as we’ve seen with the HST which is going to cripple our theatres and artists?) The government won’t say, so we are forced to speculate. But it’s clear the arts cuts certainly are not being made for economic reasons. It is also interesting to note that since we pointed out this contradiction, the BC arts ministry has removed its own study proving arts funding is lucrative from its website. However you can still find the study here.
It is an incorrect but widely-held view that the arts get a “free ride.” In fact arts & culture are effectively no different than other any other sector. All other employment/industrial sectors in BC receive public economic investment in one form or another – whether as grants, tax advantages, the building of roads for forestry, etc. Why single out the arts and culture sector – a particularly productive and efficient sector contributing over $5.2 billion to the provincial tax base every year – for exclusion from public investment? There is incontrovertible evidence that elimination of this major employment and industrial sector – which employs over 80,000 people – will be harmful to the whole economy.
Arts and culture is a growth industry, and furthermore it provides key support to other growth industries. Many of BC’s older industries are failing or are unsustainable. All lucrative growth industries are or should be supported with seed money investment – no responsible government does otherwise. Worldwide, culture ranks increasingly highly in national gross domestic products. Canada and BC are very well-positioned in this regard, so failing to invest in culture now is economic suicide. Read about culture’s growing economic importance here.
Then there is the issue of “economy of scale.” BC is a relatively remote region with a small population, and it’s next door to a commercial and cultural behemoth. Under such conditions public cultural funding is always essential. The alternative is to be swamped by someone else’s culture and lose the ability to create (and profit from) our own. This is why Canada, like many other countries with smaller populations, has historically awarded an industrial subsidy to its arts and culture sector. It ensures a healthy, lucrative, home-grown culture industry and helps to alleviate our cultural trade deficit with our neighbour and other trading partners.
Brain drain and damage to arts infrastructure are extremely costly to the economy – a proven fact. The arts are a key training ground for innovative and creative workers across many sectors (think of Jonathan Ives, head designer for Apple; he went to art school). Creativity, skill and innovativeness are absolutely key to BC’s ability to compete in a global economy. We must not only foster homegrown creativity; we must ensure we don’t lose that human investment to other regions. Damage caused by 90% funding cuts to cultural infrastructure will be almost impossible to repair – starting from scratch is time-consuming and very expensive. In a hostile environment brain drain happens almost immediately, because people need to pay bills immediately. Furthermore any rational worker will obviously prefer to work in a favourable environment. And brain drain quickly escalates – the greater the number who flee, the more the creative sector stagnates and the more others want to leave and seek a vibrant creative centre elsewhere. Killing arts infrastructure is permanent; you can’t just glue Humpty Dumpty back together again. To avoid this future for BC, arts funding must immediately be fully restored. If it isn’t, it will take us three to four decades to restore what we have built, and BC’s much-envied leading position will be lost.
Arts and Culture & the Olympics
To help win the bid for Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics, the BC Liberal government boasted about the province’s vibrant arts and culture scene. It supported the claim that culture was the “second pillar” of the Games. Now the BC government seems willing to tarnish BC’s image in the eyes of the world, chopping the arts off at the knees not five months before the Olympics begin. Meanwhile, Olympic security and a new stadium roof alone will cost upwards of 700 million, and the BC Liberals have the nerve to say that they had to choose between supporting the arts or feeding starving children. The dishonesty of the government’s arguments is beyond galling. It borders on the ridiculous. Here are some of the peripheral Olympics expenses, quite apart from the main costs which approach 8 billion: $1 million for tickets for politicians, $2.86 million for Torch Relay parties, $486 milllion for BC Place Stadium roof upgrade, approx $1 billion for Olympic security. The government can find $47 million + for the arts.

Leave a Reply