The Arts can make Edmonton a World Class City!

The Arts can make Edmonton a World Class City!

I have been connected to many in the arts community over the years. My own family is quite involved in the local music community, and I have close friends who are visual artists and theatre artists.

Personally, singing in choir and playing at Irish sessions and Bluegrass jams bring our family together with friends and neighbours from so many different walks of life. Local festivals have been an incredible way to enrich our community.

During the campaign, I’ve had the honour to spend time with a number of people in the arts and festivals communities. I was deeply concerned when I received a survey question that suggested that it was a fiscally responsible thing to do to cut all arts funding while we are in an economic downturn. This suggestion demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the contributions the arts bring to our communities, including substantial economic activity, as well as ignorance about the local economy multiplier effect. The multiplier effect is the phenomenon where a dollar spent in the local economy tends to continue to circulate locally, providing significantly more economic benefit over one that is spent outside of the local economy.

The Professional Arts Coalition Edmonton (PACE) published a detailed report last month, on the Economic Impacts of the Professional Arts in Edmonton. As the most basic level, the Arts in Edmonton contribute

“• $78 million in direct, indirect, and induced gross domestic product;

• $59 million in direct, indirect, and induced labour income; and

• 1,540 direct, indirect, and induced full-time equivalent jobs.

Participating arts organizations reported that volunteer support totaled nearly half-a-million hours in the past year alone in addition to in-kind contributions, valued at nearly $9 million.”

On a purely economic level, our investment in the arts pays back dividends to our local economy that are worth the investment.

When we consider the ripple effects of community building and wellness, it’s one of the best investments we can make for building a World Class City that works for people!

Frustratingly, there are some cracks in how we are doing arts and culture funding in the City right now. All City Arts Funding for local artists is managed through the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC). Many stakeholders have approached me about the peer jury system that determines funding for arts and festival organizations. I think it’s important that we have artists make decisions about arts funding, but there is significant concern from many that there is a lack of transparency and a sense that funding is allocated to larger players at the expense of smaller, newer initiatives. The challenge with this is that innovation is what drives success, innovation brings the biggest social and economic return over the long terms. There have been recent changes at the EAC, so hopefully some changes are coming, but we need to increase transparency in this process. We need to bring people together in the arts and festivals community to look more closely at what is and isn’t working.

There is another funding issue that we need to get a handle on. All local artists are accessing funding through the EAC. However, we have no mechanisms for artists and organizations from outside of Edmonton to be funded in a systematic, transparent way. Most recently Nuit Blanche was able to go straight to Council to access $150,000. Our local arts organizations can’t do this. This is a very fun international Contemporary Art event that lasts one day. It’s a great addition, but when it comes to the multiplier effect, it does not do for our local economy what our local, small, innovated festivals and arts organizations can do. Very few of our arts organizations are able to access that type of funding.

Even if all of these decisions were the best in the end, the process has alienated and frustrated many of our local artists, festivals, and arts organizations. It is also possible that these weren’t the best decisions and we have limited ability to assess this. We need to have more transparency and accountability through the local processes and create a process for projects from outside Edmonton, so that these decisions become less politicized.

Finally, our focus on creating a World Class City has predominantly focused on athletics and Downtown development. These are pieces of the puzzle, but by themselves won’t create the vibrant, liveable City we want Edmonton to be. Already, we have a huge asset in our vibrant arts and culture scene. The potential is there, and if we invest in it, the economic, cultural and social dividends will be there. Most cities that are considered World Class are known internationally for their arts. A liveable City for all means a building a City where everyone can participate in the benefits of these investments.

Fundamentally, the Arts are a smart investment in creating a more diverse and resilient economy and more sustainable and healthy communities. Just like other parts of our small business community, we need to make sure that the creativity and innovation on the ground is well-supported and not tied up in processes that limit their ability to thrive.