Exceprt of painting by William Kurelek, I Spit on Life, c. 1953-54. Watercolour on board. Adamson Collection, London, UK. (WAG)
During an election year, talk about arts and culture often turns to the phrase, "taxpayers' dollars." In tough economic times, arts and culture can seem like extras, like drains on an already strained economy. In fact, when you crunch the numbers, the arts are actually an engine for economic growth.
In the old model of the industrial economy, manufactured goods were seen as tangible signs of prosperity, while the arts were often viewed as intangible, unnecessary extras. But according to cultural economist Alan Freeman, who has worked for the Greater London Authority and is currently a visiting fellow at the University of Manitoba, we are now in the era of "the creative economy," which is driven by human innovation and creativity. In this new information-based economy, culture is a huge economic booster.
Here in Winnipeg, that idea is backed up by hard facts. In the run-up to our year as the Cultural Capital of Canada, the Winnipeg Arts Council got down to the bottom line. The WAC's 2009 study, Ticket to the Future Phase 1, found that the arts and creative industries account for 4 cents of every dollar of Winnipeg's economic output -- that's almost 1 billion dollars a year -- and employ 6.3 per cent of the city's total labour force. And 12 of our town's arts and culture organizations fill 1.9 million seats each year. (Sorry, football, hockey and baseball fans: That's more than twice the bums-in-seats of the three professional sports teams.) Arts and culture events are a big draw for tourists, whose spending spins off into $87 million in revenue for hotels, restaurants, bus companies, taxis and shops. With number like these, arts funding can be perceived as an investment rather than a burden.
Attendance at professional sports events vs. professional arts and cultural events in Winnipeg (courtesy of Winnipeg Arts Council's Ticket to the Future Phase 1)
Not only are the arts and culture industries major employers, they also help other employers attract and retain the young, motivated, creative workforce needed to build a 21st-century economy. It's hard to put an exact dollar figure on the success of My Winnipeg, the Plug In ICA-sponsored art show that recently took Paris by storm, for example. But developing a civic profile in which our city is seen as a hip, happening hotspot of music, film, dance, theatre and visual art is invaluable. Our city's arts and culture scene positions Winnipeg as a coo l-- and not just cold -- place to live.
Historically, artists and arts organizations have played a key role in urban development, helping to open up neglected inner-city neighbourhoods. The renewal of Winnipeg's Exchange District owes a lot to its pioneering arts organizations. Stephen Borys, director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, points out "that every body that comes through our doors means one more person downtown." The arts can help galvanize public awareness of urban issues. They also help connect the city's communities, by reaching out to groups such as new Canadians, First Nations and youth. (84 per cent of the city's arts and culture organizations provide programming tailored to young audiences.) Fostering education, community involvement and volunteerism -- 39,900 volunteer 1.6 million hours of time for the arts each year-- the culture sector helps build a healthy city.
Finally, arts funding is money well spent. There are no overpaid CEOs here. Many arts and culture organizations are small not-for-profit outfits used to getting by with less. Even the big organizations are always looking for ways to stretch their funding dollars. Borys points to the WAG's William Kurelek exhibition, which received a generous grant from the Museums Assistance Program partly because the show was developed as a co-production with galleries in Victoria and Hamilton: "We triple the viewers, we fulfill a national mandate, and we pool our resources and get more bang for the buck."
The arts have always enhanced our lives. Dollars-and-cents arguments demonstrate that they also boost our economy.
Listen to cultural economist Alan Freeman in conversation with Terry MacLeod, broadcast on Information Radio September 30.
Alison Gillmor, SCENE contributor
Related item: ArtsVest brings together arts and business.
All graphs courtesy of Winnipeg Arts Council's Ticket to the Future Phase 1