What’s in a word? Well, a lot, sometimes when it’s only a word that’s been left out. Last month, as the province rearranged its departmental deck chairs and prepared to lay off a slew of public service managers, it took the word “culture” out of the name for the newly formed Department of Tourism, Industry and Innovation.
Perhaps predictably, people who worked in the cultural industries took that as a slap in the face.
They had a right to be offended. Despite the fact that artists, musicians and other cultural workers are actually a big business in this province, it looked a lot like the provincial government was taking that work for granted.
It’s a big industry to choose to ignore. Statistics Canada numbers on the cultural sector in this province indicate that, in 2014 (the most recent year for which records are available) cultural industries employed over 5,000 people, and was responsible for $450 million in provincial gross domestic product. Seafood preparation and packaging in that year, by the way, accounted for $204.2 million in provincial GDP.
Culture, like the fishery and unlike oil and gas, is a renewable resource, if it’s properly supported. It can be fostered and grown. Already, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are leaving a mark far greater than our population numbers would suggest in the Canadian cultural pantheon.
The province does support culture to a degree. In the most recent budget, the combined areas of culture and heritage received $20.7 million in provincial support. But when you knock out the elements that carry the bulk of that sector - funding for The Rooms, for historic sites development, for special celebrations and events, for the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador (and a comparable ratio of the division’s overarching bureaucratic expenses), you quickly winnow that number down to just over $9 million.
That would make a return on investment of some 50 times the money spent on culture. And how many employees does it take to oversee the government’s involvement in a $450-million industry? Something around 25. To oversee the provincial responsibility for fish processing and aquaculture, the province has 106 staff.
The minister responsible for culture, Christopher Mitchelmore, says the name will now be changed to include the missing word.
“The intrinsic value of culture, as it has been in the past, will be reflected in the departmental name,” he told reporters.
The arts community has forced the provincial government to put one word back into a department’s title. The industry certainly deserved that. It deserves a heck of a lot more.
While it may be a fine thing to have departmental recognition again, the cultural industry in this province - a growing, renewable economic engine that brings investment and capital into this province - deserves more than lip service.