Understanding Canada’s Culture-Industrial Complexby Philip Ehrensaft and Barbara Scales
/ October 13, 2008
of Canadian cultural production adds up to a cultural-industrial sector
in both senses of the word “industry”: an economic sector and the
production of material goods. Analysts and business people all along
the Canadian political spectrum have become increasingly aware of the
importance not only of the cultural sector itself, but of its impact
on the economy as a whole.
of art, culture and cultural industry are one key to the current debate
about cultural funding in Canada. The Conservative government claims
that it has actually increased spending on the arts. This claim rests
on a purposeful obfuscation of the meaning of culture and cultural industries,
and the arts subset of culture. In the September 20 issue of The
Globe and Mail, James Bradshaw exposed this obfuscation with
a fine piece of investigative journalism. He documents how the
Conservative claims of increased arts funding are based on fudging definitions
and robbing Peter to pay Paul.
distinguishes between two cultural “strategic objectives”: SO1,
which refers to the broad Statistics Canada definition of the culture
industries and its arts subsets; and SO2, which is the anthropological
and politically opportune supplement of sports and courting ethnic groups.
Board of Canada, in conjunction with Heritage Canada, had
just issued a major report on the cultural economy when the newest rounds
of Conservative government cuts to cultural programs were announced.
Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding the Creative Economy
(August 2008) is the most systematic and up-to-date synthesis that we
have concerning the size and impact of the cultural-industrial complex
on the national economy.
Statistics Canada’s sustained and very serious efforts to generate
concrete estimates, the collective economic contribution of the diversity
of activities that we term culture contributed $46 billion (3.9 percent)
to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007. Cultural industries
employ an estimated 1.1 million people.
one can consider the indirect and “induced” leverage of this primary
cultural production and distribution. Direct, for example, means making
a trumpet. Indirect effects include manufacturing the metal that goes
into the trumpet. And induced effects includes the groceries and hockey
sticks that the metal workers buy with the income they earn from making
metal for the trumpet manufacturer. The indirect and induced effects
of cultural production bring the total contribution of culture to $85
billion (7.6 percent of the GDP).
definition of culture encompasses far more than what is commonly understood
by “the arts,” whether that understanding focuses on “high art”
or includes middle-brow art and lower.
The net cast
by Statistics Canada’s definition of culture industry is both wider
and narrower than what most people would instinctively define as “the
arts”, including activities in commercial art, advertising and television
production. Statistics Canada’s definition excludes some notable and
debatable aspects: including for-profit theatres and university faculties
of music and drama departments which train future generations of artists.
Federal support programs cast an even wider “culture” net, which
includes sports and support of multiculturalism. These are indeed culture
in the broader anthropological sense. But this is very far from
the predominant understanding of what constitutes the high culture of
diffusing the broad range of symbols and meanings that define a society’s
sense of itself became a pillar of the post-1945 Canadian economy in
support for arts and culture. Since assuming power in 2006, the Conservatives
have, within the broad cultural sector, very purposefully targeted arts
programs for cuts, and shifted the funds to sports and multiculturalism.
Funding for the arts and culture industries fell from $817 million in
2006-07 to $759 million in 2008-09; 59 percent of funding to 55 percent.
Conversely, spending on sports and multiculturalism increased from $568
million to $632 million over the same period.
One might ask
why the arts community is apoplectic over minor cuts that amount to
less than 1 percent of total funding.
Well, in terms
of industrial economics, the apoplexy is utterly rational. The
high arts in Canada have evolved into a very successful sector whose
dynamism is wedded to exports. Given the relatively small size of the
Canadian domestic market, exports are essential for the economic
health of Canadian artists and ensembles.
and meanings of art don’t just fly through the ether by themselves.
They require a sophisticated and well-resourced set of training institutions
and technological infrastructure to get to market. Canada has had some
notable successes in these endeavors..
was based on a number of programs including Trade Routes and PromArt,
Canadian support programs for artists travel and management representation.
Commissions of new creative work and gigs have often combined
resources from CBC/Radio-Canada, Canadian government sponsored programs
and Foreign government-sponsored programs.
organized in chains of production, distribution and consumption. If
strategic links in that chain are abruptly broken, negative effects
can be very high. This is precisely the consequences of these
particular cuts. The travel fund programs were modest but essential
matching funds that became available when agents negotiated foreign
contracts for Canadian artists. Other canceled programs brought
foreign presenters to Canadian arts conventions, efficiently opening
doors to outside interest.
a successful export sector? Especially since the funds are minor compared
to the $250 millions that will be channeled towards General Motors transmission
plant in St. Catherine, the $80 million to Ford to revive their engine
plant in Windsor or the $350 million for Bombardier’s C-series airplane?
It is more
than disquieting that a government would seek to throttle the arts’
success story. These disruptive cuts have been met with consternation
by the journalists who write for the business pages, and by business
people who have been increasingly active in mobilizing resources for
the arts – distinct from sports or multiculturalism - which
they understand to be central to their lives and to our society and