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Culture spending a wise investment in jobs: report

Cutting culture spending is short-sighted economics

WHAT ABOUT THE MULTIPLIER EFFECT? Spending on the arts is one of the best economic investments government can make. Gay MLA Spencer Herbert says BC's government will be slashing arts spending by 92 percent by 2012. Credit: Sarah Race photo

Between 2008 and 2012, the Liberal provincial government will slash arts and culture funding by 92 percent, says the NDP arts and culture critic.

Gay MLA Spencer Herbert says cuts to the BC Arts Council, the BC Arts and Culture Endowment, the BC Gaming Commission, the gaming transfer to the BC Arts Council, as well as provincial supplementary estimates and multi-year commitments will be slashed from
$47.6 million in 2008-2009 to $3.6 million by 2011-2012.

Herbert says the cuts mean that an estimated top end of $1.36 generated in provincial tax revenues from each dollar invested by Victoria will vanish.

And, says the Vancouver-West End MLA, the results will be “shocking” and “devastating.”

“It makes absolutely zero economic sense,” he says. Arts spending is “actually growing the economy … giving back to investment in health care and education.”

Kevin Krueger, BC’s minister of tourism, culture and arts, says Herbert is spinning the facts.

“He’s being political,” Krueger says. “It’s disappointing. They don’t offer us any ideas. They offer us a twisted rendition of the facts.”

Krueger says these are hard economic times and that core services such as health care, education and other social services must be priority items.

“We don’t have the money to contribute as generously as we did (to the arts) but I believe we will do again,” the minister says.

But Herbert says a 2006 study for the then-ministry of tourism, sports and arts (PDF) backs his claims.

The study was done by GS Sandhu & Associates.

“Arts and cultural organizations make a broad contribution to society in addition to the above impacts on the economy,” says the report. “These organizations help preserve heritage, facilitate arts and cultural education, identify, develop, and recognize artistic talent, and encourage local participation.

“Also, healthy arts and cultural communities can attract out-of-region audiences which in turn contribute spending to local economies,” it adds. Though the study did not attempt to estimate all of the economic spin-offs, it did find that for every arts sector job created in the province, another 1.32 to 1.52 jobs are created in the rest of the economy.

For example, says Herbert, “you need wood to build a stage. Forestry.”

Moreover, based on the study’s 2004 numbers, some 300 arts and cultural organizations received $9.6 million from Victoria.

That “generated a very significant stream of government revenues,” the Sandhu report notes:

  • The province received between $10 million and $13 million in provincial taxes;
  • Local governments received between $1.26 million and $2.15 million in property taxes;
  • And the federal government received revenues between $23 million and $26 million.

Herbert worries that provincial cutbacks will also have a horrific impact on cultural tourism — the fastest growing economic sector in BC.

“If there’s no festivals, no museums, (visitors) will leave and they won’t come back.”

The Campbell government “has no credible argument why this makes sense.”

Herbert says the days of the boom-and-bust BC economy based on the resource sector must be seen as something from the past. A thriving arts sector that can attract cultural tourism is part of building a stable economy.

Krueger does not dispute the importance of a thriving arts and cultural sector.

“Arts and culture are a huge economic engine,” Krueger agrees. “There is a huge multiplier effect in the economy.”

But, he adds, the collapse of the US-based Lehman Brothers investment bank in Sept 2008, sparked an economic crisis that affected the entire world.

He says everyone has suffered and that includes arts groups. “I empathize with them completely,” he says. “It’s a very tough time when you’re uncertain about your income. People are grappling with this worldwide. They are going bankrupt worldwide.”

But, Krueger says, the Liberal government has budgeted $26 million for arts and culture in 2009-2010, a figure he says is higher than any past NDP budgetary allotment.

“The best year on record for the NDP was $14 million,” Krueger says. “We’re in a worldwide recession.”

The BC Arts Council is an agency of the province. It received $14.8 million in public funds in 1997, under an NDP government. That amount dropped to $11.8 million for the next two years, rising to $14.5 million in 2000-2001.

For the 2001-2004 years of Premier Gordon Campbell’s administration that figure dropped to $11 million, rising to $13.8 million for the 2005-2008 budget years.

Krueger says in 2008, the Liberals allocated $150 million to establish the BC 150 Cultural Fund for the BC Arts Council to administer in perpetuity. The idea of the fund is that the arts council can live off the revenues from investing the cultural fund. But the recession intervened and the investments have not yielded much. According to its 2008-2009 annual report, the council had anticipated revenues of $7.5 million. The actual yield was $3.49 million.

Krueger says the cultural fund triples what the NDP gave to the council in its last four years in office.

Despite that, the minister says, “We have had to go through a dramatic belt-tightening exercise. I’m not comfortable with belt-tightening.”

Herbert also says the government is using the $20-million-2010 Cultural Olympiad, which will showcase Canadian and international talent before, during and after the Winter Games as a “smokescreen against their regressive and brutal policies.

“They’re hoping people will get transfixed … and not see the province is collapsing around them. It’s an incredibly cynical move,” Herbert says.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), however, sees the Cultural Olympiad as an opportunity to showcase past government funding of the arts in the province.

“I don’t think anybody feels good about the cuts,” said VANOC vice-president of culture and ceremonies Burke Taylor. “Almost every one of the groups we’re working with have received government funding.

“The Cultural Olympiad is the best case we could make for continued funding in the arts,” says Burke, the former director of Vancouver’s office of cultural affairs. “What we’re really trying to do is create market, to create audience.

“This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.”

For Andrew Laurenson, artistic director of Vancouver’s Radix Theatre, the cuts and the Olympics create a conundrum. He says it’s hard to reconcile the cuts while looking at the massive Olympic expenditures.

“Ironic when you consider the Olympic movement is supposed to promote fairness and excellence in athletics and culture, and bring attention to the environmental cause,” he says.

While Radix was not hit by the cuts, Laurenson urges people to speak out against cuts to programs for amateur sport and children’s lunch programs as well as the arts.

“All of these organizations deserve the respect and support of our provincial government for the vital role we all play in contributing to the rich and varied fabric of a strong community,” Laurenson says.

He says arts groups should accept Olympic-related largesse, and continue to produce top-notch work while making Victoria aware of their concerns about the cuts.

Stop BC Arts Cuts.

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