Put your money where your mouth is

UPDATE: Playwright Robert Chafe and I spoke with Ted Blades on CBC Radio’s On the Go on Thursday. You can listen to the interview here (20 mins).

Last night, I saw this twitter exchange between the CBC and Chris Mitchelmore, NL’s Minister of four different things, one of which is culture:

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I read those lies about me and saw red. Fire engine red. Because who moves from Ontario to Newfoundland (by way of England…what a bloody clusterfuck that was) because “the Government is supportive of artists”? NOT ME.

These absurd tweets are a diversionary tactic. The fact is funding to artists via grants has been steadily declining over the past 7 years and last week a group of artists, myself included, wrote letters to various ministers and MHAs asking them to increase ArtsNL’s budget over the next three years to $5 million. (Those letters came up in Question Period on Wednesday, cue the nonsense tweets.)

Our province is currently mired in a $12.7 BILLION boondoggle called Muskrat Falls while simultaneously offering financial sweeteners to a publicly traded Ontario-based cannabis company. So you know what? A $5 million investment in the arts, phased in over three years, is loose change between the couch cushions.

I certainly see the value of the arts and the cultural industries here in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are five thousand people contributing $450 million dollars to our economy.
— Chris Mitchelmore, MHA

There is a misconception that tax dollars spent on things like energy projects and cannabis companies are investments and tax dollars spent on the arts are subsidies. Muskrat Falls. Canopy Grow. ArtsNL grants. These are all investments and they are all subsidies. Mega projects sometimes go sour, haemorrhaging money instead of generating it. Books sometimes flop. The only difference is in the amount of tax payer dollars gambled.

My first ArtsNL grant was less than $2,000. Coincidentally, I received that cheque in 2012, the same year ArtsNL received its last funding boost from the provincial government. Since then, investments in the arts via grants have declined. How tragic for a provincial industry that according to Minister Mitchelmore himself, generates a $450 million return on a $20 million investment. That’s a 2,150% ROI. Our industry hustles to make the province richer.

I’m not on Twitter but I have my spies so I know Minister Mitchelmore likes to invoke my name on there from time to time. Usually it’s a re-tweet, something about my book or an award or a short list. I suppose he’s proud of my success and likes to share it with the world. That’s nice. I appreciate the internet high fives. That first $1,800 cheque from ArtsNL, I don’t know the dollar value on ROI to the province, but judging by his tweets and re-tweets, I’m guessing the Minister believes the investment was a good one, that it paid off. And judging by how quick, how thrilled, the government always is to celebrate our cultural successes, it’s clear they understand the value of our industry.

Five million dollars in ArtsNL funding phased in over three years. That’s all we are requesting. An increase in seed money to support the creation of new work. Stories are important? So important the government has made it the centrepiece of an expensive (and stunningly beautiful) tourism campaign? FANTASTIC. Now, put your money where your mouth is.