Culture, not oil, is our economic future

Members of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet perform Dracula at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Published in the Winnipeg Free Press on October 29, 2016, re-published with permission of the author.

Chris Lorenc asked what might have happened had Brian Epstein never met the Beatles (Landlocked pipelines wasting our potential, Oct. 15).

“Hard to imagine squandering such natural gifts,” he said. Lorenc then goes on to suggest the Beatles are not so different from Canada’s “landlocked oil resources,” which we are squandering by not having pipelines to tidewater.

I would beg to differ on the contention pipelines are the solution to Canada’s economic future. Instead, I think we need to focus on the natural gifts of Canada’s musicians, artists, filmmakers and other creative-sector talents.

Mirroring national and international trends, Manitoba’s arts and creative sector is the fastest-growing sector in the province. Recently published reports based on Statistics Canada survey data show the arts and creative sector in Manitoba produces a GDP impact of $1.7 billion annually and employs more than 22,000 people. With an annual GDP growth of 23 per cent since 2010, it is outpacing the provincial economy and all other sectors.

These numbers show arts and the creative industries are one of Manitoba’s key economic drivers — out-producing traditional industries such as electric power generation, oil and gas extraction, engineering construction, accommodation and food service, truck transport, food manufacturing and the combined impact of mining, forestry, fishing, hunting and trapping. Looking at these numbers, perhaps it is time to re-frame what we consider to be our “natural resources.”

The arts are so much more than numbers. The arts reflect our stories. They inspire us and make us question and explore the world around us. They embolden us to dare, to risk and to succeed. It is what 70 per cent of tourists are drawn here to see. Nearly every Manitoban participates in some form of art or culture — in fact, our arts and cultural attractions bring more paying customers than our professional sports teams.

It seems at odds, then, that our elected officials have neglected the arts and creative industries for decades. It is only recently that Mayor Brian Bowman has implemented modest increases to the Winnipeg Arts Council — but even that is only bringing us close to $7 per capita, when the national large-city average is around $30 per capita.

The provincial government has not increased its contribution to the sector in decades and has only very recently begun to examine the policies behind its investment.

The last cultural policy review in Manitoba was in 1990 — and that was before the Internet existed. The impact on creative producers has been profound, yet our investment policies haven’t changed. Much is riding on the new Conservative government’s pledge to review cultural policy and investment in the arts and creative industries. We need to strengthen the financial capacity and sustainability of cultural organizations with increased and significant investment in the cultural sector.

Both the civic and provincial governments also need to address the infrastructure deficit affecting existing spaces and facilities.

Across the province, culture is housed and created in public buildings, historical homes, museums, libraries and other community hubs. Past investments and our architectural history risk being lost without a commitment to maintain and enhance our cultural infrastructure. Facilities in all of our communities need to be maintained, updated and renewed.

Ideas may not require bricks and mortar to take shape, but transforming creative ideas into physical form often requires external facilities. While Manitoba has numerous creative spaces, the demand is greater than the supply.

Creativity and innovation are words that are heard all the time, important words that are key to our collective futures. So are community, prosperity and health. The arts are at the forefront of these critical issues, just as they also happen to be at the forefront of our economic and job growth. Let’s not squander any of our precious resources. If art and culture could be considered our new metaphorical oil, then we need to invest in the equivalent refineries and pipelines.

Roberta Christianson is the chairwoman of the Manitobans for the Arts.

See the Winnipeg Free Press article