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Gillian Dykeman. “Arts Were Neglected in Provincial Budget”, Telegraph-Journal, February 10, 2018

The Government of New Brunswick made some exciting announcements in its new budget this week but left out one of its most important sectors in addressing the province’s key challenges. In the budget delivered last week, Cathy Rogers, Minister of Finance, outlined three top challenges GNB is seeking to address:

  1. The Aging Population
  2. Youth Unemployment
  3. The Need for NB Businesses to Export and gain Economic Competitiveness.

I would argue that the arts sector is one of the best poised to address all three challenges, and merits increasing support from New Brunswickers and their government. The Arts Sector contributes $670 Million annually to our provincial GDP, much of that through the export of cultural products, and is driving innovation. A healthy arts sector helps to retain youth and attract newcomers.

Investing in the arts is as sure a bet as the Government of New Brunswick can make; not only is the sector a major player in terms of the province’s financial success, but we also are vital to population retention and growth. In his book, No Culture, No Future, Simon Brault argues:

“…culture attracts, sells, brings people together, entertains, appeals, and impresses. It allows us to bring the gap between local and international, the specific and the universal. It allows us to exchange and share, counting on the possibility of a dialogue that transcends language and imperfect translations, as well as codes, beliefs, religions, and differences of all manner”.

Attracting newcomers, making this province a top destination for new businesses, and retaining youth all require that we are heard above the noise of all the other choices in a country as vast and variable as Canada. We in New Brunswick urgently need to tell a compelling story of who we are. GNB has a lot of priorities to balance; however, the most recent budget provided no increase in funding for Arts and Cultural Industries. This branch, embedded within Tourism, Heritage, and Culture, equips arts organizations and funders to keep culture thriving in New Brunswick, and to help them attract outside investment. ArtsLink NB is disappointed to see the government give a low priority to its own excellent cultural policy; the policy’s strategic goals need an investment of roughly $5 million. These funds are needed to keep the sector competitive and performing its mandated economic and social functions.

Culture and the arts tell us the story of who we are. I’d ask you to consider your own life, and the experiences you’ve had that have helped you to feel like you belong, or give you a sense of place.I’m guessing it wasn’t the afternoon you spent streaming sitcoms. I’d speculate that you feel most connected and identified with the place you live through cultural and community experiences.

In Saint John, I ask you to imagine the city withoutart at night” festivals (Third Shift, Uptown Sparkles), no Acres Architects public art, no boardwalk performances, no Hemmings House, or no Mullingers making things interesting, or, even, no buskers. How would we talk about the place we live? What stories would we have?

These artists, storytellers, and arts events tell us the story of who we are; and without them, we cannot expect newcomers to stay here long, nor ask our university grads and youth to build their lives here. Cultural vibrancy supports population growth and retention. Our government recognizes that the aging population in New Brunswick is a threat to our ability to pay for the expensive process of growing older. To look after our older citizens, we must prioritize the institutions and events that cater to the young and that help newcomers connect to a sense of belonging through vibrant cultural experiences. Youth and newcomers help build a healthy population base which in turn helps us to afford our eldercare. Through creating cultural vibrancy and cultivating a strong sense of community, the arts help us to retain the youth and attract newcomers. The arts merit the support of New Brunswick citizens and our government.

The Arts in New Brunswick help create new jobs, generate new business through arts-based entrepreneurship, encourage businesses to establish themselves here as an attractive home for their workers, and attract investments from outside NB. The arts are good business. The arts represent a significant portion New Brunswick’s workforce; our filmmakers and their crews, artists of all disciplines, cultural workers, festival staff, talent, and entrepreneurs all help to generate momentum in the provincial economy. This province must recognize the role of a healthy arts ecology in driving innovation and employment. Federal Heritage Minister Melanie Jolie noted recently: “The digital transformation is happening and affecting the cultural sector because people go mainly on the internet to get films, tv, music, news… The arts [are] driving the development of the internet, that’s the reality.” Films need crews; festivals need talent and workers; theatre needs not just actors but stage directors, costume designers; galleries need preparators, curators, and interpreters. The arts are realized through having skilled workers do what they do best; and in the process, important employment is created right here. The arts are also contributing meaningfully to the province’s culture of export-based entrepreneurship. Indeed, export is necessary for most arts-based businesses based in NB as the markets here are simply too small to support them in the long term. These exports, be they ceramics, performing arts, films, books, or any other discipline you can think of, all help employ artists locally while adding to our cultural vibrancy and telling our story.

We hope to find that the Government of New Brunswick and New Brunswick citizens recognize the value of a robust arts sector for the future of this province. The arts are the anchor at the heart of healthy population growth, economy, and community.

 

-Gillian Dykeman

Executive Director, ArtsLink NB

ArtsLink NB is a multidisciplinary artists association mandated to advocate for the arts in NB. http://www.ArtsLinkNB.com

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