Moncton, September 22, 2010 - Artists and arts organizations across New Brunswick are disappointed by a provincial election campaign that has demonstrated a woeful lack of understanding of the arts community and its economic potential. Last spring, The arts sector, represented by ArtsLink NB and its francophone counterpart, L’Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau- Brunswick (AAAPNB), suggested measures to all political parties with a view to strengthening an industry that currently employs over 10,000 New Brunswickers. As small business owners, many artists’ needs are no different from those of other small business owners - access to capital, recognition of their professional status, opportunities to network, assistance in market development. To this point, however, no party or candidate has explicitly responded to the proposal made by ArtsLinkNB and the AAAPNB, that the provincial budget include a five-million dollar increase annually for four years, to be divided between the Arts Development Branch and ArtsNB, to enhance the support for artists of all disciplines and all linguistic and cultural communities of the province.
Comparison with funding levels in Nova Scotia, with a population not much larger than that of New Brunswick, shows how far New Brunswick falls behind. Recent figures from Statistics Canada and other government sources show, for example, that Nova Scotia’s support for culture is far more generous than any party or government has proposed or provided in New Brunswick. And Nova Scotia reaps the benefits: in 2001, its cultural sector contributed more than $1 billion to the economy, and employed more than 25,000 people. Funding for operating grants and other forms of assistance also show significant differences between the two provinces. Political candidates and platforms have stressed economic development, but none have proposed a comprehensive, realistic plan to enhance and
sustain a currently underdeveloped sector with significant potential for
job creation, attraction of tourists and immigrants, and retention of
youth. As a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development indicates, “Creativity and human talent, more so than traditional production factors such as labour and capital, are fast becoming powerful engines of sustainable development”. Richard Florida’s work also underscores the critical importance of creativity and talent to viable communities.
Arts education in the schools fares only marginally better in campaign promises. There have been some positive initiatives such as the ArtsSmarts program; but they have been accompanied by some regrettable cancellations such as the Artists in the Schools program. There seems to be little recognition that school programs have the long-term potential to stimulate the creativity and basic foundation necessary to progress as a society, and even less willingness to define specific target funding levels for these programs.
No candidate or party has proposed a coherent arts and culture plan that would integrate the many facets of building a viable cultural community and industry. No party platform has tied cultural proposals to specific levels of funding. There appears to be little understanding of the untapped potential of the arts and culture sector in New
Brunswick, despite the availability of data showing the significant contribution of this sector to the provincial economy. Instead of a vision and plan for cultural sustainability, the election campaign is a
series of one-time bids for votes. For the cultural sector, as in too many other areas, the campaign has delivered little but promises that are long on rhetoric and short on substance, in a fiscal climate
that more than ever will need the kind of creativity, ingenuity, and innovation that the arts community can contribute.