Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

B.C. arts does more with less

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Lately, because of violent world geopolitics and a quest for personal growth, I've been thinking about the value of arts and culture.

On Nov. 18, Canadian social research firm Hill Strategies released a 109-page document investigating the state of B.C.'s arts scene for the Alliance of Arts and Culture. It makes useful and timely reading for Whistler, with its growing emphasis on cultural tourism.

The document compiles findings from research projects on the situation for the arts and culture in the province, especially the money side of things and the strengths and weaknesses of the sector.

The study found B.C. residents are more likely to participate in many different arts, culture and heritage activities than other Canadians. This includes art galleries, classical music performance, historic sites, zoos and natural history venues like gardens and planetariums, conservation areas and parks, and — of course — reading books.

In B.C., 40.5 per cent of residents visited a gallery in the past year. With classical music, 16.2 per cent of B.C. residents saw at least one performance (Quebec was next with 14.8 per cent).In terms of artists themselves, B.C. has the highest concentration in the country at 1.08 per cent of the population, compared to a Canadian average of 0.78 per cent. With a provincial population of 4.61 million in 2014, this works out to more than 46,000 artists.

Impressive numbers, but the median annual income levels for these artists is painful — the second lowest in Canada, with an average of $19,319 earned in 2010. The national average is (a still measly) $21,50.In terms of cultural workers, a broader category, B.C. again has the highest concentration with 4.34 per cent of the overall population (more than 184,000 people). The Canadian average is again less, at 3.82 per cent.And, sigh, the median income of cultural workers is again second last, at $33,505. The Canadian average is $37,400.

Federal government per capita spending in 2009-10 (the most recent data available) shows plenty of room for improvement, with B.C. ranked last on receiving federal expenditure at $53 per person — against a national average of $123. In contrast, $191 per capita was spent in Prince Edward Island.

Provincial government spending per capita in 2009/10 was only $1 better than the federal number — at $54 per British Columbian. The national average was $90. At the municipal level, however, governments took expenditure to the top in the country for the same time period, at $100 spent per capita. The Canadian average of municipal-level investment was $87.

And at the resident level, British Columbians do themselves proud with volunteer rates the highest in Canada at 3.7 per cent; arts and culture donor rates (3.5 per cent are givers, second highest in Canada).The study adds all this together for 2009-10 and B.C. averaged the lowest rate per capital at expenditures at all levels of government, at $206 (against a national average of $301).

The Alliance for Arts and Culture identified three focus areas for arts and culture in B.C. following interviews with 14 B.C. executive directors and stakeholders (none from Whistler). The focus areas of importance include diversity, with a healthy connection between community and audience; social and economic community impacts; and attracting and retaining well-developed talent.

They also looked at these groups — which included the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Harrison Festival of the Arts — to find how they fare under the difficult conditions described above.

The Alliance compared the numbers in 2010 and 2014. They found revenues down from government funders for 2013-14, with 68 per cent of arts and culture groups experiencing this compared with 32 per cent of groups in other provinces.

B.C. groups are more dependent on revenues from earned sources like ticket sales and fees.

The study concluded that if the 19 B.C. arts organizations studied were funded to the same level as their counterparts in the rest of Canada, outside Quebec, they would have received an additional $730,000, or 18 per cent more than the 2013-14 amounts received from Ottawa.

A couple of points are clear.

B.C. gets a raw deal compared with the rest of the country, and B.C. audiences and visitors are active, more so than elsewhere

It would be great to see Whistler and Sea to Sky numbers.

British Columbian arts and culture practitioners carry out their passions with less spent on them and less earned overall.

Another important point is that 2009-10 was a while back now. We need more up-to-date data so that smaller communities like Whistler and larger ones like Vancouver grow the industry and support the artists accurately.

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