All three political party leaders in the provincial election campaign agree on supporting the arts, but what that means for each of them is different.
But members of the local arts community appear united on what the No. 1 arts priority should be: more funding for the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.
The council, established in 1980, is a non-profit Crown agency that fosters and promotes the arts in the province. It receives provincial government funding of $2.1 million annually, which is used for programs and grants for professional artists and arts organizations.
Though the council’s funding had been doubled by the current government, it’s still a challenge to stretch the money among deserving projects.
Arts council chairman Tom Gordon said the province’s strategic cultural plan — Creative Newfoundland and Labrador — has great vision, but lacks sufficient funding.
“Newfoundland and Labrador has come to be known across the country and beyond for its vibrant arts scene,” Gordon said.
“But for our artists to be able to continue to sustain the vitality of their explorations, there needs to be a further investment in the research and development of our creative sector. A doubling of the arts council budget would be a modest investment in dollars with an astounding return to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Many artists told The Telegram that after the election, the new government has to look after its arts and culture sector beyond giving $1.5 million in film equity funding to CBC-TV’s “Republic of Doyle.”
Artists don’t dispute that’s a good thing, but it’s deemed by some to be more of a tourism investment than support for the arts.
Calla Lachance, managing director of Neighbourhood Dance Works, said the arts community is multi-faceted, providing revenue streams and tourism spinoffs.
“So many artists work for so little pay, and in very poor conditions,” she said. “It is time to see bigger commitments from governments that will allow artists to live and work at their livelihoods in the professional conditions and environments they so rightfully deserve.”
Singer/songwriter Colleen Power says she’s seen panhandlers with more money in their hats than she’s received for playing a gig.
“I really think the political candidates should address some issues like that for artists,” she said.
“We have a larger number of artists than we have money to support them. I’ve been on juries with MusicNL and the arts council in the past, and we’re always left in a conundrum because there are so many projects that you want to be able to fund.”
Writer Mike Heffernan said it’s not looking for handouts, it’s facing unique economic hurdles.
Heffernan believes developing a downtown space for artists would spark economic and cultural growth.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward and Tory Leader Kathy Dunderdale offered varying degrees of commitment to more arts council funding.
If elected, the NDP would double it over four years, Michael said, bringing it up to the national average.
“We didn’t put it in our platform to do during the first year, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen,” she said. “We know it’s a very workable sum of money and would make a significant difference to the number of grants the arts council could give, as well as the amount of money they’d be able to give.”
Aylward, a former Tourism, Culture and Recreation minister, said his government would establish an arts and culture council to advise the government and would consult the arts community about its needs.
“I think it’s an area that, if we supported it more — and the dollar figures aren’t that big when it comes to other things we support in the province — it would help stimulate the industry,” Aylward said.
“We’ll spend all this money on trying to market the place, but yet what people talk about when they get here is our artistic community.”
Dunderdale said her government wouldn’t increase arts council funding, but would continue to support festivals, symposiums and other major events; create new aboriginal cultural partnerships; and ensure arts and culture centres are being used to their potential.
Dunderdale said she’s disappointed that the “Republic of Doyle” funding is seen as anything other than an investment in the arts.