Clausen: Economic slump is no reason to lower the curtain on city’s arts groups

April 7th, 2017

By Larry E. Clausen

Our provincial government understands that investing in the arts has an immediate return economically and provides a wonderful experience for Albertans.

The new provincial budget provided a $5-million increase for the arts. This has sparked optimism among many and reflects the listening by government about what is important to people.

There are many studies done about how the arts economically support the community. Studies suggest that for every dollar invested, the economic return to the community ranges from between $2.50 and as high as $5.

What is often forgotten about arts organizations is that they employ people who pay taxes and purchase products and services to produce their works. In the case of groups that tour, their impact is even greater, when they utilize the travel industry infrastructure.

More Albertans attend cultural events and facilities than any other attraction in the province. Yet, the arts receive very modest government funding when compared with other industries.

We tend to forget that for a vibrant province, it is essential the cultural industry is broad based and engaging. Attracting industry and people to Alberta would be severely impacted if our arts scene did not meet high standards.

The economic downturn has gravely hit the arts industry. For some groups, ticket sales have dropped, reflecting the dire straits of people who have lost their jobs. Donations have been substantively reduced by individuals who are feeling the pinch. Sponsorships by the energy industry have been clawed back during this tough time.

The people in the arts are relatively resilient when it comes to their craft, and would say, “we are not going down without a battle.”

To the arts groups in the province, bravo – this is the attitude needed to ensure this industry prospers.

It is interesting to note that the City of Calgary is the lowest per capita supporter of the arts in Canada at $6.40, compared to Edmonton at $13.60 and Toronto at $8.90. While at first, this seems stunning, there is rationale.

Calgary arts groups have enjoyed tremendous and generous support from the energy industry. Sadly, the challenges facing energy companies have eroded their ability to wholesomely support the arts and other good causes in the community. It is not a non-caring move; rather, it is an essential step to staying in business.

For Calgary to continue with its distinction of being a great place to live, it simply cannot afford to let the arts community shrink. Culture is integral to the growth and prosperity of the city and will be key to economic development and diversification.

The arts succeed because it is a powerhouse for creativity. It has the potential to grow into a rich and dynamic industry. Much talk is evolving globally about the future of creative industries and Calgary could capitalize on becoming a cultural centre of distinction.

Like any industry set for growth, it takes an investment, and it is not uncommon to turn to governments for the stimulus. But, if Calgary is to capture the cultural distinction, it will need to increase its investment.

Of course, like anything in our world, not everyone agrees that the arts warrant additional government funding. Often people fail to understand the significance of art to our community.

Calgary and Alberta would not be what they are today and could be in the future without a vibrant and healthy arts community.

It would be interesting to imagine what our art industry could be if private and public sectors invested more. Could we create a vibrant business with rich social input and strong economic performance?

Theatre, opera, dance, museums, galleries, music, film, recordings, visual arts and more – these are the essential ingredients to enhancing our lives, city and province.

Larry E. Clausen is executive vice-president of Cohn & Wolfe West, a public relations firm, and serves as the chair of Alberta Ballet.