6 min

BC arts sector was growing in importance

With decline of traditional sectors, arts and culture represent a future needing investment

IT’S ABOUT JOBS. Jeff Gibson of Pride in Art says the provincial Liberals don’t realize they’re killing jobs as well as hurting culture. (Jeremy Hainsworth photo)


People in BC’s arts, culture and heritage area are scratching their heads trying to understand why the provincial government would gut funding to organizations which fuel the province’s largest economic growth sector.

It’s a sector that drives tourism and provides employment in hard economic times, they say.

Indeed, notes the NDP’s gay arts and culture critic Spencer Herbert, by the government’s own estimates each dollar invested by government in the sector generates a return of $1.36.

Then there’s the economic multiplier effect of the provincial arts and culture sector.

For every five jobs in the arts sector, another is created in another part of the economy, suggests The City of Richmond’s April 2008 Arts and Economic Impact Study using provincial multiplier factors.

In Richmond that year, for example, for $52 million produced in wages by the arts sector, a resulting $12 million was generated in other sectors, the study notes.

According to BC Stats, the multiplier effect for the forestry industry is about 1.5 jobs created elsewhere for every job in the industry. For the mining sector, between 1998 and 2001, the effect was between 1.7 and 2.5, according to Statistics Canada.

According to the Mining Association of Canada, the sector grew by 2.8 per cent between 1998 and 2001. That’s far behind the arts sector, which grew at 30 percent for the same period, according to Murray and Gollmitzer.

“The creative economy is growing faster than many other sectors. In Canada and many European countries, the creative sector employs between three-to-four percent of the working population and contributes similar percentages to the annual GDP, placing it ahead of many primary resource sectors (forestry, fishing) combined,” say Simon Fraser University (SFU) researchers Catherine Murray and Mirjam Gollmitzer.

And what that shift brings to the economy is a more flexible, multi-skilled and mobile labour force that is increasingly self-employed, argue SFU’s Murray and Gollmitzer.

Pride in Art Society president Jeff Gibson adds that it’s not just about the production of art and the preservation of culture; it’s about jobs as well. Gibson says he’s pissed off that the Liberals just don’t seem to grasp that they’re killing jobs in the arts sector.

And, notes Herbert, the culture created by those people doing their jobs leads to jobs in other sectors.

Herbert says the forestry industry supplies wood for stages, theatregoers eat in restaurants, and tourists need hotels to stay in. Tourism is the province’s fastest growing economic sector, he says, and arts and cultural industries are a vital part of tourism.

According to the province’s September financial and economic review, while primary industries continued to decline in 2008, jobs were added in the service sector.

“In recent years, a more diversified economy has emerged, supported by many non-resource activities such as film, food and tourism, and other value-added industries. BC’s economy matured into a more broadly based structure that became less vulnerable to changes in international markets for natural resources,” says the ministry of finance report.

And the Canadian Conference of the Arts backs that up on a national level.

Indeed, the CCA notes that in 2007, the economic footprint of Canada’s cultural sector was $84.6 billion or 7.4 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product.

“With an estimated one million jobs in the sector, arts and culture is on par with the agriculture and forestry industries. Combined with the mining, oil and gas industries,” the CCA argued before the federal standing committee on finance in August 2008.

Moreover, SFU’s Murray and Gollmitzer say there is an urgent need for governments to re-think how they can enhance social security and income support for creative workers.

“Social security is paramount for them to maintain their creative edge, and contribute to a healthy diversity in creative expression,” the SFU team wrote in its report, From Economy to Ecology: A Policy Framework for Creative Labour.

Among the many organizations stunned by recent cuts were a myriad of non-profit and volunteer groups throughout BC. Murray and Gollmitzer argue those groups support the creative workforce.

Lastly, they argue, there needs to be a broader public policy approach to the new creative ecology. The concept of the “creative city” needs to be examined, they say. And with it, so too must the role of public and private cultural infrastructure to create urban environments in which creativity can flourish.

And, that has support in The Conference Board of Canada’s 2007 report, Mission Possible: Stellar Canadian Performance in the Global Economy.

It says despite Canada’s transformation from a rural to an urban society, we remain with an infrastructure built for our rural past.

But, the board says, those creative urban environments are more than bricks and mortar.

They will have to sustain vibrant cultures and become centres of excellence in education so that they can take advantage of the global networks that power great cities and drive Canada’s economy forward.

“Cities today are the principal sites of innovation and production of knowledge-intensive goods and services. They must have the resources — from their province and the federal government — to invest in people so that they are socially as well as environmentally and economically sustainable,” the conference board report notes.

Urban theorist Richard Florida sees mega-cities as the future. And it’s the creative economies that will drive them, he says. Both Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, and the conference board agree universities must be part of that equation.

“Well-educated professionals and creative workers who live together in dense ecosystems, interacting directly, generate ideas and turn them into products and services faster than talented people in other places can,” Florida wrote in The Atlantic magazine in March 2009.

Florida says “the places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism.”

He says shaping that growth should be one of government’s highest priorities as the economy shifts.

Instead, the provincial government is slashing funding for this future-oriented economy.

Vancouver politicians led a charge against the cuts at the recent Union of BC Municipalities annual meeting. Lesbian Vancouver Coun Ellen Woodsworth’s resolution opposing the cuts passed unanimously Sep 30.

“Vancouver (is) going to see hundreds of jobs lost and a number of community organizations are going to go under,” Woodsworth says.
She cites a city study suggesting every dollar put into the community by government has a $12 return on investment.

“Financially, it doesn’t make sense” to cut back on that investment, she says.

The province largely maintained funding to the larger, more establishment arts groups, but slashed and eliminated funding for smaller and community oriented arts organizations, many of which employ gays and lesbians. The damage to the gay community goes beyond the job loss, impacting on self-expression, community growth, and individual happiness. Woodsworth says arts and culture are critical to the well-being of the queer community.

“It’s a vehicle to express ourselves,” she says. “It’s really critical that the community speak out.”

The CCA — the national group speaking out for Canada’s arts and cultural sector and its workers — did just that last year, saying Ottawa ignores the emerging creative economy at the country’s peril.
CCA says the arts and culture sector has been at the vanguard of the creative economy for four decades.

“The hope that the traditional agrarian/industrial base of the economy can somehow be resuscitated back to the glory days is one that dies hard,” it says. The CCA argues that federal arts and culture funding should remain at 2008-2009 levels.

Further, the submission says, money directed to ‘sunset’ industries that are in decline should be redirected to enhance the ability of the arts and cultural sector to contribute to the competitiveness of Canada’s cultural industries at home and abroad.

But back in BC, local funding organizations are expected to come under increased pressure to pick up some of the funding abandoned by the province. They’re already squeezed by current needs.

In the Kootenay region, for example, funding for arts councils comes, in part from the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) through the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance. This year, the alliance received $500,000 from the trust to be handed out to arts groups. CBT spokeswoman Lynda Lafluer says the CBT has a very good reason to support arts and culture groups and initiatives in the resource rich region.

“It’s an area of growth in the basin,” she says. “It’s been a stronger sector than forestry for 20 years.”

Among groups the BCT funds is Creston’s Footlighters Theatre Society, which has a number of queer members. Now, however, Lafleur says, she’s hearing that arts groups who’ve lost funding may be looking to the trust and the alliance help.

While the trust is set to discuss the issue later this month, Lafleur doubts there’s going to be enough money for everyone impacted by the government. However, with the cuts in government grants to arts groups, Lafleur says a conundrum has been created: dividing the pot further would hurt groups already receiving help rather than helping those who need help.

“I can’t see them wanting to whittle down the amounts because it whittles down the quality (of what groups can do),” she says. “We generally don’t jump in where government has slashed.”

The cuts and their impacts have led The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to dub it a ‘lose-lose’ situation for the province.

“The government has introduced a litany of cuts in areas ranging from the arts to community sports to autism programs for children in the name of reducing provincial spending,” says CCPA economist Iglika Ivanova.

“These cuts represent minimal savings on a $40 billion provincial budget. Yet they have devastating consequences for communities, families and service agencies.”

Ivanova says the move will depress the province’s gross domestic product and increase unemployment.

This is the last of a five-part series examining the effects of the BC government’s cuts to arts and culture spending. Watch for future reports in this space.

Stop BC Arts Cuts.