Gillian Dykeman. “Harnessing the Allure of the Arts“, Telegraph Journal, July 26, 2016
New Brunswick is facing some major demographic challenges as the population ages and youth continue to out-migrate. These demographics produce a dangerous inverted pyramid when graphed. New Brunswick’s inverted demographic pyramid describes our impending economic situation as well: as folks retire and age, their social support needs increase but as they enter retirement, their incomes drop along with their tax contributions. Without a healthy tax base of full time employed, income-tax paying citizens, it is a huge challenge to pay for the increase in need in social services.
We need more people. But this begs the questions: how do we get people to come here, and once they are here, how do we then get them to stay? Fortunately, Canada has had a healthy inflow of immigrants. Without this influx of newcomers, the country as a whole would be facing demographic challenges identical to New Brunswick.
Immigrant families come to Canada seeking opportunities, sanctuary, and to join their families, and they come in the hundreds of thousands every year. Our operative words guiding public policy and funding decisions in this province should be attract and retain more newcomers. The arts, I would argue, are a major factor in both attracting and retaining newcomers, as well as stemming the flow of out-migration through deepening a connection to this place via enriching cultural experiences.
How is it that immigrants can help the province, and how can the arts facilitate population recovery? Immigrant populations are more entrepreneurial than their native counterparts. In a province with an unacceptably high unemployment rate, new businesses are extremely desirable. Though many bring training and skill sets with them, there is an economy of social infrastructure needed to help immigrants establish themselves in their new circumstances; settlement services, social workers, and bridge training programs would provide New Brunswickers with high quality, stable jobs.
As families become established, they create a support structure for more newcomers from, for example, their language group or former country to land. How do we know this works? Look to Toronto. Toronto is the most metropolitan city in the world, with half of its population born outside of Canada. Between 2001 and 2006, a quarter of newcomers to Canada moved to Toronto (that’s 267,855 people – over a third of New Brunswick’s current population). The city has enjoyed a growing economy and employment, in no small part thanks to innovation and the prevalence of start-ups. The city has its own “Immigration Portal”, connecting immigrants and would-be immigrants to the aforementioned social infrastructure needed to make immigration feasible. Social infrastructure is one of the top employers in the city, and those support jobs contribute to the success of the economy.
Another top employer in Toronto? The arts and culture sector! Toronto is home to 93 per cent more artists than any other Canadian city. There are hundreds of galleries, cultural festivals, poetry readings, dances, raves, restaurants, Pride, food festivals, outdoor concerts, street parties and so much more. Most of these cultural events are free and open to the public.
These kinds of cultural encounters really cement a sense of connection to that city. Without them, Toronto doesn’t have that much to offer: it’s flat, hot, stinks a little, and is expensive. With these amazing things going on all the time, it’s always an exciting place to be; it’s the arts and culture that transforms makes the city space into a place, seemingly like magic. But it’s not magic; it’s at once complex and on the other hand very straightforward. The arts are supported publically and privately, and are seen as an essential aspect for retaining newcomers to the city. So many have settled into the GTA and stayed because they have a sense of place and belonging, and that is largely accomplished through participation in various cultural activities and adequate social infrastructure.
To be sure, Toronto has a huge head start on the rest of the country, but why not here? Why not make New Brunswick the place immigrants to Canada dream of ending up? Why not make it the best, most appealing, most supportive place to arrive and stay in Canada?
To do this, we must build up our arts sector and social infrastructure in a way that makes New Brunswick an attractive landing pad. We have so much to offer that our large, expensive and flat counterpart to the east can make no claims on. Here, there is space, there is access to a beautiful ocean, there are beautiful old buildings just waiting for start-ups to fill them. The spaces are beautiful to start with, but it is arts and cultural experiences that cement a connection to this specific place.
The province as a whole (governments and citizens) need to value the arts as not just a side project, but as a major sector, wealth generator, and a piece of solving our demographic puzzle. New Brunswickers must see the supporting the arts as serving the public good. We have to help immigrants to Canada to “see themselves” here, in New Brunswick, by connecting them to this place through the arts.
Gillian Dykeman is the executive director of ArtsLink NB