Friday, January 12, 2007

Beginning the dialogue

Discussions in the office this morning have centered on making the best case to Government in our upcoming presentation to the Treasury Board. While we, on this side of the table, believe in the value and power of the arts that is not necessarily true on the other side of the table, at least not in the same way.

I’ve begun meeting with all of the Islands MLAs, some of whom are proving tricky to track down. From the first four meetings (Olive Crane, Minister Bagnall – Fisheries, Wayne Collins, and Minister Shea- Transportation and Public Works). By and large, there is a recognition that arts and culture play a role in their communities, a role that is tightly bound to community identity. If that proves consistent, I and expect it will among the remaining 23 members, the question I have is whether or not ,in the context of a Treasury Board consultation, this notion will be meaningful.

My fear is that, in the Treasury Board will be so used to hearing instrumental arguments (invest x$ is us and we’ll generate x$ times 3 in output) that the stage will not be receptive the true nature of our case. And while we can produce economic figures (as in the report “Economic Contribution of Culture to P.E.I.”) which may help assuage concerns, I don’t want to tie any increased investment in the Council to predictions of output that we are poorly equipped to measure and prove and when the real benefits may be largely immeasurable.

What would help both now and in the future, would be for all of us for whom arts and culture are important features of our communities, to regularly engage our elected officials in conversations about the role of arts and culture in our communities. Make it a regular conversation, so that the topic becomes as comfortable as sport or health or economic development. As far as I’m concerned, it ranks right up there, and impacts all three.

Whether we understand each other well or not, on January 25th, the Treasury Board will at least gain an introduction into the world of public arts funding, and have a better understanding of what we do and why.