Nova Scotia·Nova Scotia Votes

Arts organizations give mixed reviews to party platforms

Nova Scotia artists and arts organizations have suffered major losses as a result of pandemic restrictions, but there are mixed reviews of what the three main parties are promising to revitalize the sector.

Sector needs significant funding boost, says board chair at Arts Nova Scotia

Ken Schwartz directed Two Planks and a Passion's production of The Tempest. Arts organizations are giving mixed reviews to the platforms of the parties heading into the provincial election. (Ross Creek Centre for the Arts)

There are mixed feelings within Nova Scotia's arts community about what political parties in the province are promising the sector in advance of the Aug. 17 election.

Ken Schwartz said he was "disheartened" overall by what the three main parties have pledged, particularly when it comes to the not-for-profit artistic sector.

"Speaking for myself as an individual, that's not a new sensation for me in a provincial election in Nova Scotia," he said. "This is not new that culture would not take centre stage."

The artistic director of Two Planks and a Passion Theatre and board chair at Arts Nova Scotia, the arm's-length provincial agency responsible for disbursing funding to artists and arts groups in Nova Scotia, called the situation a "crisis" exacerbated by the pandemic, but primarily due to decades of stagnation.

"The future of the sector is at stake," he said. "We're not going to be able, I would submit, to tackle the really serious issues of equity, diversity, inclusion unless that [funding] envelope grows, not just incrementally but to a huge extent."

Challenges

He said each of the main parties had received a copy of an industry-led report detailing the many challenges facing artists and arts groups. The document was created with input from about 200 interested parties.

The report recommends an increase in overall funding to arts groups and that it be a multi-year approach. It also suggests the province provide arts groups with the same support it has given tourism operators to boost a post-pandemic recovery. 

In recent months, those in the tourism industry have been offered more than $50 million in grants, loan guarantees or money for extra marketing to help the sector rebound from COVID-19 related losses.

The NDP was the first to respond to the arts industry report, pledging, as it does in its election platform, to boost funding to the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage to one per cent of the overall budget. According to the party, it's a $115-million commitment.

The party has also promised to increase core and operational funding to local arts and culture organizations, reinstating a film and television tax credit, as well as developing an arts infrastructure strategy which would include a sound stage.

'Real progress'

Schwartz said those concrete proposals, if implemented, could mean "real progress" for arts groups, especially those that don't currently receive funding from the province.

Although the Liberals have not responded to the report, the party's platform promises $3 million to homegrown filmmakers and TV producers in a fund to be created.

Other artists and groups are being promised $3 million in "supplemental operation funding."

The Color Purple is performed at Neptune Theatre in Halifax in 2019. (CBC)

The party has also pledged to work with Screen Nova Scotia "to implement the recommendations of a recently completed feasibility study to establish a "year-round sustainable film and television sound stage."

Laura Mackenzie, executive director of Screen Nova Scotia, said feels "really good about" that promise.

"It's a real gaping hole in the infrastructure in Nova Scotia," she said. "We're not going to get back the opportunity lost over the last number of years, but we can start to build back."

That's a reference to the 2015 decision by the governing Liberals to eliminate the Film Tax Credit and replace it with an investment fund that has grown over time to surpass the amount of money Nova Scotia had offered through the tax credit.

Uncertainty

The uncertainty created by the elimination of the film tax credit drove away large productions and forced many industry workers out of the province, a situation that is slowly reversing as the province increases its support for filmmaking. 

In last spring's budget, the provincial government nearly doubled the Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive Fund budget, adding $23.6 million for a total of $46.6 million available to the industry in rebates.

Mackenzie also said the Nova Scotia Content Creator Fund would be helpful to local creators.

"This gives them the opportunity to have a budget level that will allow them to get their project made at a level at which international audiences will receive it," said Mackenzie. 

Sound Off: Election Edition - Episode 3

4 months ago
Duration 4:13
Party platforms, planks and political positions are coming into focus. In some cases, there are some interesting role reversals. 4:13

The Progressive Conservative Party is promising to honour the commitment made by the province to increase the budget for the incentive fund.

It is also generally supportive of the sound stage request, but the only specific mention of the arts in its platform is a promise to provide an "annual tax credit to parents of $500 per child" for parents who enrol their children in an organized sport or arts program.

The Green Party of Nova Scotia is promising to "sustain funding for Arts Nova Scotia" and to "expand school-based arts programmes including visual, musical, performing, and dramatic arts."

There is no mention of the arts or culture in the Atlantica Party platform.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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