“Undervalued” provincial arts sector

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The Saskatchewan Legislative Building is pictured during a summer sunset.
Budget day? More like budget dismay. Allister White

The arts have positive impacts but, without funding, capacity for good is greatly reduced

On Wednesday, March 20, Saskatchewan finance minister Donna Harpauer released the final provincial budget which projects a $273.2 million dollar deficit for the fiscal year.

Harpauer announced she would not be seeking re-election and had the following to say about the budget: “I would have loved to have ended [with a] budget that was balanced and was able to do a tax reduction. However, it is the budget I am comfortable with.”

According to Harpauer, colleagues of hers as well as the premier, Scott Moe, wanted to prioritize fiscal increases which she described as “the right thing to do right now.”

Saskatchewan’s 2024-2025 provincial budget is titled “Classrooms, Care & Communities.” The document reports record investments in education, health care, and community programs. The minister’s message details how “the 2024-25 Budget makes record investments in the provincial education system, record investments in health care and record investments in municipal revenue sharing to respond to the growing needs of Saskatchewan residents, families and communities.”

Harpauer also claims that “the 2024-25 Provincial Budget makes these important investments without introducing any new taxes or increasing existing ones. That’s just one feature of this year’s budget to make life more affordable for residents of the province.”

Among the “record increases,” arts funding remained minimal. Community Sport, Culture and recreation programs received $3.1 million. Heritage Institutions and the Saskatchewan Science Center received approximately $5.5 million. The Saskatchewan Arts Board received $6.75 million in funding while the Community Initiative Fund received $8.47 million. Creative Saskatchewan received $17.31 million and the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation $308,000.

A letter from the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance (SAA) in response to the 2024-25 budget states that “with the arts in Saskatchewan still being negatively affected by the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, massive inflation and the continued collection of the PST expansion on admissions, entertainment and recreation, [they are] disappointed with yet another year of status quo funding to the provincial arts sector.”

According to the SAA, the provincial budget as “a status quo budget for a sector in crisis is, simply, not good enough. Funding to SK Arts is flatlined and well below historical levels – approximately $383,000 less than a decade ago.” 

The letter reminds the provincial government that Saskatchewan’s arts and culture sector positively contributes to the provincial economy and is therefore worthy of significant investment and concern. According to the SAA, the gross domestic product (GDP) generated by arts and culture in Saskatchewan during 2021 was over $922 million.

“Considering the estimated economic output of SK Arts’ funded organizations alone contributes approximately $74 million in economic output to the province, the overall contribution of arts & culture should not be undervalued,” writes the SAA.

Moreover, the SAA calls for the government to recognize that arts and cultural programs are essential to the quality of life for those living within Saskatchewan.

This is a stance that has been incorporated into government elsewhere and reflected in budgeting. The Ontario Arts Council states that “the arts are essential to the quality of life, cultural identity, social well-being and economic prosperity of Ontario and access to the arts enhances lives, fosters creativity and innovation and strengthens communities.”

According to the SAA, there are multiple benefits to having the arts present in Saskatchewan communities. These include, “strengthened social bonds, creating common memories and a community in which people want to participate, encourage others to stay in or move to communities that embrace the arts and the arts create stimulation, celebration, and hope. They promote a sense of community identity and express a Canadian identity at home and abroad.”

The arts also create employment for approximately 740,000 people across Canada, generate tax revenue, and increase consumer spending.

Furthermore, previous Canadian research has demonstrated how arts and culture sectors contribute to provincial GDP. From 2010-2020 GDP growth was 4 per cent in B.C. and 3 per cent in Nunavut, after adjusting for inflation and population growth.

However, in Saskatchewan, the cultural economy decreased by 7 per cent between 2010 and 2019 and by the same percentage in 2020 for an overall decrease of 14 per cent between 2010 and 2020.

Decreases could be attributed to a number of factors, including lack of prioritized funding and support for the arts and culture sector. Prior to the pandemic, the number of arts and culture jobs increased by 6 per cent; however, these increases were negatively impacted by the pandemic.

The arts and culture sector recovered well in 2021 and significantly contributed to the provincial GDP. Statistics Canada demonstrates that between 2021 and 2022 Saskatchewan continued to have a positive increase – one that measured approximately 20.5 per cent. Still, this increase in GDP for arts and culture was among the lowest in Western Canada – Manitoba increased by 40 per cent, Alberta by 24.9 per cent, and BC by 28.3 per cent. Large increases demonstrate a strong arts and culture sector.

Prior to the release of the Saskatchewan 2024-2025 provincial budget the SAA was concerned with proposed cuts in the Canadian Heritage and Canada Council for the Arts.

In an open letter to Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge; Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland; and president of the Treasury Board, Anita Anand, the SAA wrote that they were “deeply concerned about these proposed cuts and the impacts on our province’s arts and cultural organizations.”

“We understand and respect the need for fiscal restraint in a moment of high interest rates and an affordability crisis. However, we cannot express enough our profound dismay at the choice to cut from government departments, cuts that go beyond the sunsetting of emergency and recovery programs to the core work of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council,” wrote the SAA. The arts and culture sector in Saskatchewan is marked by the government’s “status quo” of budgeting with an uncertain future.

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