Herménégilde Chiasson

Herménégilde Chiasson, the former lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, said arts funding should be an election issue. (Government of New Brunswick)

New Brunswick artists have struggled to be considered as contributors to the economy and they need financial support despite the tough economic times, according to former lieutenant-governor Herménégilde Chiasson.

Chiasson said in an op-ed for CBC News that artists play an important social role, but they have had a difficult time getting support from different levels of government.

"If we are to maintain ourselves as a society, we need to support or at least show some interest or concern for the art being produced here," he said.

The well-known Acadian poet and playwright, who served as the province’s lieutenant-governor from 2003 to 2009, pointed to statistics that showed the province’s roughly 1,900 artists are struggling to make a living.

He said a 2006 report said the average Canadian artist made $22,700 a year, compared to $36,300 for other Canadians. In New Brunswick, however, artists earned an average of $12,900 a year.

Chiasson described a meeting he once had with a cabinet minister, who was responsible for cultural funding. He said the cabinet minister had a hard time believing the importance of how art contributed to the provincial economy.

"From that encounter I have come to the conclusion that statistics related to the arts are always subject to a kind of discrimination for we do not seem to fit in the world of numbers," he said.

"The result is that the arts are still not seen as a sector that contributes to the growth of the economy and the promotion of an image worth millions in side benefits."

And when governments do set aside funds for the artistic community, Chiasson said that money is often diverted away from creators.

He pointed to federal funding that was handed out by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency that was intended to promote the arts.

"Most of that money went in consultant fees to figure out what should be done and in the production of lavishly illustrated brochures about the artists’ work," he wrote.

As New Brunswickers prepare to go to the polls on Sept. 22, there has been a significant focus on the state of the province’s economy.

The province’s debt is approaching $12 billion and the deficit is projected to be $391 million.

Chiasson said he understands the financial pressures that will face the next government but that should not stand in the way of supporting the arts.

"It’s vital. We have food for our body, we have all kinds of needs and I think we need food for our soul. Everybody talks about the financial crisis and I think the most important crisis is sort of a moral crisis," he said in an interview with CBC’s Information Morning Moncton.

"I think we need something to heal ourselves from that process and turn things around. It is essential to move in a more positive way. Yes there is a financial crisis, but I think there is a moral crisis that is even worse than the financial crisis."