When you give an artist $1k: An Open Letter to the Government
Dear Sirs and Madams,
Allow me introduce myself: I am an arts worker. In fact, setting modesty aside, I am a highly skilled arts worker, university educated and in high demand, usually working 2 or more jobs and volunteering my time on at least one board or project. I have 10 years of professional experience. I have never, in my entire life as an arts worker, earned more than $30,000 in a year.
This is not a complaint. Rather, I present myself as a representative of a demographic of tax-paying, voting citizens. I have chosen a low-income profession because it makes me happy, and I work exclusively with and for companies that make a positive impact on society. I believe in the not-for-profit sector as a means of doing good work, and I enjoy making life better for the people with whom I share the world. I am not alone in this.
The economic impact of the arts industry in Canada has been well-documented. We know that the return on investment is about 7 to 1. The social impact of the arts industry, while less tangible, is even more evident: art expands the mind, engages critical thought, creates a sense of community. It constitutes the bulk of our cultural references. We listen to music, see a film or tv show, go out to a night at the theatre, enroll our children in dance classes… we know the benefits of artistic engagement.
Today, March 20th, is World Storytelling Day. The theme for 2015 is “Wishes”. So, let me tell you a story with a wish in it.
I have a theatre project that strives to engage teenagers and young adults to think about mental health, to invite them to participate in discussion, and to provide a platform for them to share their own stories. Getting this project from my brain onto a stage in front of the right audience has taken more than 7 years, simply because its budget has been so hard won.
This project has been invited to showcase at a provincial high school conference on mental health next month. The conference is able to commit some money to the performance, but the cost of fees and equipment rental to mount the show surpasses that amount. We’ve agreed to do the performance, and committed to raising the difference ourselves. All of this has happened because all of us believe that the conference participants will benefit from experiencing this show.
This week, I received a call from a government-funded organization confirming that they would fund the performance, and it changed everything. With this grant, we were assured that we would break even on the project. It even opened up the possibility of purchasing some of the equipment that the show needs, rather than renting it, so that the next time we present this project, the costs will be lowered.
This grant can improve the sustainability of a project that aims to tour to audiences to fight stigma and promote healthy environments.
The dollar figure on the grant? $1,000.
My wish for the upcoming 2015 provincial budget, and for every government budget, and, for that matter, for every corporate community investment budget, is this:
Give the arts community a little bit more. Just a thousand dollars can turn a project from a loss to a gain, and a gain for the arts is a gain for society.
St. John’s, NL