Restore funding to the arts

(From the Brief presented to the BC Government’s Select Standing Committee on Finance, on Oct 7, 2009, by Peter Sandmark, Executive Director of MediaNet.)

I am here today to urge you to restore funding to the BC Arts Council, and to restore the Gaming grants that have been cut.

Let me tell you briefly about our organization.  MediaNet is a non-profit video production center in Victoria, founded in 1981, with 3 staff, and currently 184 members.  Membership is open to the general public, and we provide members with access to video cameras and video editing on computers.  We offer many workshops and organize screenings of independent films and videos.

This past year 185 short videos were produced.  Many of our members’ short films have been shown in festivals around the world, including in France, Switzerland, Australia, London, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Edmonton, St. John’s, and of course at festivals here in Victoria.  We have shown members work on Shaw TV, reaching local television audiences, as well as screening works in venues around town such as the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Open Space, the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria, and the Belfry, among other venues.

About a quarter of our funding is self-generated from membership fees, equipment rentals, workshop registration fees and admissions from screenings. The rest comes from municipal, provincial and federal funding sources.  The Canada Council for the Arts is our principal funder, supplying a bit over a 1/3 of our $150,000 annual budget.

The cuts to our BC Arts Council grant have forced us to lay off a part-time technican, who is a student, and was using the contract from us to help support himself while going to the University of Victoria.   I just couldn’t keep him on, merely hoping that we might find or raise the money somehow.

We also receive $20,000 a year from Gaming’s Direct Access program.   We are on the second year of a three year agreement for $20,000 per year. When we initially heard that all the Gaming grants were cut, I looked at our budget, and realized that we would have to close for 3 months as a consequence, laying off the remaining 3 staff members.

Fortunately the government decided to honor the three-year Gaming grant commitments, so we continue to be open, and to serve Victoria independent video producers.

BUT, what would have happened if the Gaming cuts had not been reversed speaks to the heart of what I want to say today. When arts cuts like this happen, and we have to lay off people, or cut back their hours, the people affected by the cuts have to look for other jobs, and the arts organizations lose their experience and know-how.

This is what is happening to the other non-profit arts organizations who have had their Gaming grants cut, and who will be facing BC Arts Council cuts.

In other words, these cuts, if they are carried through, will cause severe damage to the arts infrastructure in BC.

What is the infrastructure of arts and cultural organizations?  I have to tell you that it is not simply a theatre with seats, or an empty gallery with white walls. It is the human resources, the people whose years of experience and knowledge are behind the programming and exhibitions of arts groups.

If you let these groups fall apart now it will take much longer to build them back up.  We will lose talented people as they move to other sectors or to other provinces or countries.

In the United Kingdom the Policy Study Institute’s seminal study in 1988, The Economic Importance of the Arts in Britain, established the arts sector as a significant and growing  sector in its own right, with a turnover of $10 billion and employing some 500,000 people.

By 1997, the creative industries sector had become recognized by organizations such as the European Commission, the World Bank, national and local government in the UK, and seen as a major force in the fast-changing global economy.

In 2001 the report, Creative Industries Mapping Document suggested that the revenues generated by creative industries had grown to around $112 billion and that exports contribute some $10 billion to the balance of trade. Further, creative industries accounted for over 5% of the Gross Domestic Product and employed around 1.3 million people.

In 1997 the report Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in Arts Programmes,  produced a major change in recognition of the cultural sector’s contribution to social development. This seminal study provided a clear picture of the potential social benefits of the arts, and for the first time brought the issues fully to the attention of policymakers and the arts funding agencies, providing the earliest authoritative evidence of the impact of socially-relevant arts practice.  This study showed that the arts make a valuable contribution to social policy objectives,

As for direct economic impact, these studies have shown that the arts and cultural sector serve as a main source of content for the cultural industries, the media and value-added services of the telecommunications industries. They create jobs and contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product. Cultural institutions, events and activities create locally significant economic effects, both directly and indirectly through multipliers.

In Canada the three levels of Government, federal provincial and municipal, invest approximately $7.4 billion in the arts and culture sector, which in turn contributes close to $40 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), about 3.8% of the economy.  According to the 2006 census, there are 140,000 artists across Canada, slightly more than the number of Canadians directly employed in the automotive industry (135,000).

The Census report also notes that the broader cultural sector has about 609,000 workers and comprises 3.3% of the overall labour force in Canada. This is about double the level of employment in the forestry sector in Canada (300,000) and more than double the level of employment in Canadian banks (257,000).  The British Columbia government’s own studies that show a $1.36 return to the government for every $1 spent on arts funding.

I believe that it would be less expensive for the government to borrow to keep arts programs alive, than to cut them, and receive less tax income coming back.

I wanted to say that I read with interest the presentation last Monday from our colleagues at Music BC, and I want to support their comments.  I noted also among the presentations in Vancouver on Monday Sept 28, that even the B.C. Business Council believes that returning to operating deficits is the right decision given the extent and swiftness of the global economic downturn.

Our arts colleagues in Ontario have told us that it has taken them 10 years to recover from the devastating cuts made to cultural funding by the Harris government.  Recently, we have seen the Ontario government increase arts funding, even during the recession.

I noted in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts’ 2008/2009 Annual Service Plan the goal of “Cultural Rich communities that contribute to making BC the best place on Earth to live, work and play.”   Also objective 2.2 states that “British Columbia’s arts, culture and creative sectors are diverse, dynamic and growing.”    This will not be true if you carry through with cuts to Gaming and cuts to the BC Arts Council.

I imagine that you are familiar with the Creative Cities concept, that cities with vibrant arts and cultural scenes also show net population and economic growth.  This book by Richard Florida has made an impact on policy makers throughout North America and Europe.  I noted an article recently calling for BC to attract high tech workers, this is what the Creative city approach has shown, cities like San Francisco, or Austin, with thriving cultural scenes have attracted high tech industries.

Finally we can’t forget the value of arts and culture to tourism, we know that tourists go to certain destinations for  art, Barcelona for Picasso’s museum, Paris for the Louvre, London for the British Museum, and we know that people come to Victoria for the Royal BC Museum, you should recognize this, and cuts are not the way to increase the draw for tourism.

In conclusion, I once again urge you to restore funding to the BC Arts Council, and to restore gaming funds to last year’s level.

Thank you.

Peter Sandmark