B.C. Alliance for Arts + Culture pre-budget submission zeroes in on economic and social benefits of the arts

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      The executive director of the B.C. Alliance for Arts + Culture, Brenda Leadlay, made the following submission to the B.C. legislature's standing committee on finance and government services as part of the government's pre-budget consultations:

      Thank you very much for the opportunity to make this presentation on behalf of the B.C. Alliance for Arts + Culture, an arts service organization with over 425 members across the province.

      My name is Brenda Leadlay and I am the newly appointed executive director replacing Rob Gloor. I have worked as a professional theatre artist, arts administrator and arts educator for over 35 years—primarily in B.C.—except for the last five years when I was the artistic executive director of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. I’m happy to be back in B.C. and I aim to work diligently to improve the financial conditions for all the artists in this province.

      In its last two annual reports to the legislative assembly, the standing committee on finance and government services recommended that the provincial government increase their investment in the arts through a commitment to multi-year funding for arts, culture and heritage; an increase to the budget of the B.C. Arts Council; an investment in a cultural facilities capital infrastructure program; and the restoration of community gaming grants to 2008 levels—with incremental increases as gaming revenues increase. We thank you for that, however…
      Despite these recommendations and similar objectives set out in the goals of the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, as well as a budget surplus, the government did not see fit to increase these budgets—which have virtually remained the same. 
      So we’re wondering—what will it take to convince our government that the time has come for an increased investment in the arts and culture sector? Will this government follow the lead of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals by doubling the budget of the B.C. Arts Council?
      Because this is one of the things we are asking for, again. And we will keep asking and getting more vocal and proactive about it until we are heard by the decision-makers. 
      There is some existing statistical information on the economic impact of the arts. It is limited due to the lack of funding for research, but it makes a solid case for investment. 
      According to data collected through the Culture Satellite Account (CSA) in the Provincial and Territorial Culture Indicators, 2010 to 2014, produced by Statistics Canada with the support of several partners—including the B.C. Alliance for Arts + Culture—British Columbia’s growth in culture GDP was higher than the national average at $6.7 billion—an increase of $1 billion since 2010. B.C. consistently has the 3rd highest culture GDP and jobs in the country ahead of Alberta and behind Ontario and Quebec. Our culture GDP represents three percent of B.C.’s economy and 12.2 percent of culture GDP in Canada.
      The United Nations has identified the creative economy as one of the world’s fastest growing sectors for income generation, job creation, and export earnings. A recent UNESCO report also noted that creative industries and cultural tourism have become strategic assets for local economies.
      And yet…
      British Columbia has more artists per capita than any other province but remains the province with the lowest cultural funding per capita, despite the fact that B.C. residents rank in the top three provinces with the highest cultural consumption rates of arts and culture.
      B.C. has the highest volunteer rate per capita than any other province and the second highest number of donors, and yet, according to CADAC stats, B.C. arts and culture organizations receive comparatively lower revenues from provincial and federal public revenue sources than other provinces. 
      Clearly, the people of B.C. are becoming more aware of the significant role that the arts play in their lives. They know that arts and cultural organizations help attract skilled workers to their community, enhance the mental health and well-being of both individuals and neighbourhoods, and contribute to economic development.
      In a recent report by Business for the Arts in Ontario (June 2016), 65 percent of people surveyed said that a thriving arts and culture scene is something they look for when moving to a new place. In fact, arts and culture ranked 4th, 5th and 6th after parks and recreation activities, proximity to nature, and restaurants/cafes. Sports facilities ranked 7th.
      With an emphasis on self-expression, innovation, creativity, enjoyment and social inclusion, the arts are getting more attention than ever from health professionals, researchers, clinicians, policy makers, and the general public as a means of improving health and mental well-being.
      A recent study from Australia that attempted to quantify the relationship between arts engagement and mental well-being found that people with high arts engagement (100 hours per year) report better mental health. Just think of the money you could save on health care if you invested more strategically in arts and culture.
      Arts and Humanities Research Council in the U.K.—Cultural Value Project (March 2016) summarizes the findings of 70 specifically commissioned research studies regarding the value of culture in the U.K., drawing attention to “the difference that engagement with arts and culture makes to individuals, society and the economy”. 
      The Cultural Value Project put the experience of the individual at the heart of ideas about cultural value, arguing that if we start with individual experience and work outwards, we can better understand the kinds of benefit that culture may have for society, for communities, for democracy, for public health and well-being, for urban life and regional economic growth. Here are just five things the report noted that culture can do for people. It can:

      1. Generate a greater understanding of individuals and their lives, increasing empathy with respect to others and an appreciation of the diversity of human experience;
      2. Produce engaged citizens who VOTE, volunteer, articulate alternatives to current assumptions and fuel a broader political imagination – all fundamental to the effectiveness of democratic political and social systems;
      3. Affect peace-building and healing after armed conflict, helping communities bring about reconciliation;
      4. Improve health and wellbeing by producing better healthcare environments that improve social inclusion and mental health and engagement of seniors with dementia;
      5. Demonstrate how arts in education underpins learning, such as cognitive abilities, confidence, motivation, problem solving and communication skills.

      By working outwards from the individual in this way, we can talk about the concept of cultural value and evaluate it meaningfully but we will need to develop a wider repertoire of methodologies to do that and we need your help.
      According to a 2016 Hill Strategies Research study on B.C.'s Cultural Ecology commissioned by the Alliance for Arts + Culture, arts and culture organizations in our province have specifically designed programs for a wide range of people and perspectives, including youth, Indigenous people, economic and social diversity, mental and physical ability, cultural diversity, and geographic communities. But most arts organizations in B.C. still face the same three issues—staff capacity, facilities, and financial stability.
      If provincial arts organizations were funded by the B.C. government at the same level as their peers in other provinces (excluding Quebec), it would require an immediate 34 percent increase to the B.C. Arts Council and $8.1 million in additional funding.
      The top B.C. government priorities in 2015/16 were to continue diversifying the economy so let’s see a real investment in British Columbia's creative economy. 

      Show us that the B.C. government is smart, savvy, and understands both the economic and social benefits of arts and culture. We are asking the B.C. government to:

      1. Double the investment in the B.C. Arts Council so that: a) B.C. artists have the same opportunities as artists in other provinces; b) B.C. arts organizations can provide access to underserved communities; c) BCAC can provide stable, multi-year funding to arts, culture and heritage organizations;
      2. Increase funding for arts education to enable access for youth;
      3. Invest in a cultural facilities infrastructure program to enable B.C. organizations to leverage federal funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage;
      4. Restore gaming grant levels to 2008 levels and provide incremental increases as gaming revenues increase
      5. Increase funding so that everyone can have access to the arts—not just those who can afford to purchase tickets. 

      The arts affect almost every aspect of public life—from schools and health, to prisons and probation, to tourism and the economy, to urban regeneration, museums, heritage, and Canada's standing on the international stage. We need to start arguing for the multiplicity of currencies by which our work ought to be assessed—for its value as well as its cost. What if there was a currency to measure a young person's self-confidence, a convict's understanding of their actions, another country's view of who we are, or our own understanding of ourselves? 
      The arts tell our stories and shape our identities. Individual creative expression is integral to the health and well-being of our communities. The arts have significant economic impact and social benefit and the arts are a tool for reconciliation. 
      The question is not “Can you afford to increase your investment in B.C.’s arts, culture and heritage,” but rather, “How can you afford NOT to?”
      Thank you for your attention and for your support.