Do we believe that the arts are an essential component of our communities? Do we truly believe this? And if we do, then what is needed in terms of supports in order for the arts to have the structures needed to thrive?
These are some of the questions that triggered some needed conversations with City of Winnipeg councillors and the mayor at a recent Arts Day at City Hall. Conversations that are much needed as Winnipeg is well behind other Canadian cities in terms of investments in arts and culture. Fact, Winnipeg investments sits at $7 per citizen, where Montréal spends $55 per citizen, Vancouver $47, Edmonton $34, Saskatoon $32, Ottawa $28, and even Windsor invests close to double that of Winnipeg at $12 per citizen. Despite that, the cultural sector of Winnipeg is a major economic driver for this city. The sector employs 26,6000 people, representing 6.4% of the labour force. It produces over $1 billion in economic output, which is easy to believe when you take into account there are about 6,3000 cultural events that welcome an estimated 2.6 million local admissions, with an additional 600,000 tourists who collectively spend $76 million in the city. Its important to understand that for every civic dollar invested in the arts, we leverage another $18 of support. Not a bad return.
Winnipeg’s arts and culture sector defines Winnipeg locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. Our musicians, our dancers, our filmmakers, our writers, our visual artists instill pride in who we are because of what they create here, but also what they bring with them as their art transcends borders. More and more people are fascinated with our artists and the culture that passes through them. It is easy to state that Winnipeg celebrates a vibrant and diverse arts/culture/heritage/creative sector. This is not new. We have the oldest running theatre company in North America with le Cercle Molière and its 92 seasons. We have some ‘Royal’ caliber performance companies including the ballet that was founded by two dancers who believed that Winnipeg could support its artists. We have filmmakers like Guy Madden whose faux nostalgia film My Winnipeg is often invoked by French tourists as to how they have come to hear about this city. We have award winning writers like David Bergen and Carol Shields who have their words in countless homes, but have called Winnipeg home. Begonia and Royal Canoe are redefining the musical landscape and cross collaborate with theatre to bring unique cultural experiences. Art City allows some of the city’s less advantaged citizens to collaborate with some of the most gifted visual artists in the city.
The point is, there are so many examples of how the arts are embedded in our understanding of ourselves and how we present ourselves to others. There is something unique and of value to the fact that arts happen in Winnipeg because people believe in it and can’t help but to dare to create. I think its time our civic mechanisms believe that they have a responsibility to uphold and support what is now a core component to who we are as a city. Specifically, I would like to see the city strengthen the financial capacity and sustainability of cultural organizations with increased investment in the cultural sector. I would like to see capital investments in order to develop, renovate and expand our cultural infrastructure. I would like to see the City of Winnipeg develop policies and procedures that enable the arts.
None of this will happen if we, arts administrators, artists, patrons of the arts, citizens of Winnipeg, don’t start asking for it. I understand that choices need to be made and resources are limited. But investments in the arts affect all of us, empower all of us. We understand ourselves by allowing art to have space and outputs. Communities evolve through their artists. These are elements that, in and of themselves, merit proper investment in the arts. And if you are motivated by returns on investments as understood by GDP, taxes and revenues, well, the arts accomplishes that too.
Winnipeg artists have accomplished much. Imagine what they could do with proper support at City Hall. If you agree, tell your councillor, tell the mayor.
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