Business columnist sees a golden opportunity for Cape Breton.
Leveraging our arts and culture sector to a new level on the international tourism market
Back in May 2017 the Government of Canada challenged Canadian businesses of all sizes to collaborate with other innovation sectors, including post-secondary and research institutions, to propose bold and ambitious strategies that would develop job-creating superclusters of innovation much like Silicon Valley in California. A Federal investment of nearly $1 billion was announced to be matched by the private sector that would create 50,000 new jobs, boosting Canada’s $1.7 trillion GDP by $50 billion and growing regional economies in our country.
In all, five regional Super Clusters were created focusing on Digital Technology (BC), Agriculture (Prairies), Manufacturing (ON), Artificial Intelligence better known as AI (QC), and the Oceans Sector (Atlantic Canada).
Each cluster will receive about $200 million of federal support matched by private sector interests in each cluster area. The initiatives hold great promise to move Canada into the global forefront in each of these specific areas of the international economy.
I use this as a lead-in to a conversation I had a few weeks back with a local businessperson who wanted to share an idea of a new approach to growing the Cape Breton economy by building off our rich history of being a playground for artists. Our own supercluster of sorts that would be focused on growing our internationally respected arts and music sector but with the initiative spread all over Cape Breton Island. Imagine creating our own Soho, Greenwich Village or Yorkville here in Cape Breton. Our island has exported many high-profile successful musicians, actors, artists and their products over the years so the idea of expanding on this success has serious merit for further discussion and conversation.
Art and music have remained consistent in the lives of Cape Bretoners despite economic hardships caused by industry closures and our youth heading West for jobs. Just think of the successful Celtic Colours festival attracting tourists and artists from all over the world for 10 days in October for the last 21 years. But what if we could also share our culture, heritage, and history on a much larger scale with artists from all around the globe and become known as the place to go in Canada or for that matter globally where artists of all nationalities could develop their full creative potential?
The project has been dubbed “The Golden Loops.” Imagine three gold loops, one enveloping eastern Cape Breton called the Village Loop, a second enveloping western Cape Breton called the Ocean Loop and a third encompassing northern Cape Breton called the Highland Loop with each loop embracing a variety of artists from all over the world.
The concept would be the largest artistic awards project in the world. A $13,500 annual cash fellowship along with $3,000 in support services such as space, marketing/accounting/admin assistance would be offered to creative artistic people from around the globe for a four-year term totalling $66,000 per artist. The fellowship would be offered to 700 artists annually at its peak phased in over a three-year period. Each artist must spend 70 per cent of each year in Cape Breton.
The project would require buy-in from all residents of Cape Breton, local artists, the business community, First Nations, university, tourism associations, and most importantly politicians from all colours and all levels of government to have any chance of the project taking root.
Vacant spaces across Cape Breton will be filled with a minimum of three to 10 artists from different backgrounds. Art, paintings, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, music, acting and other disciplines all housed under the same roof, greatly increasing tourism to our regions. Structures left vacant for tax sale could be repurposed. Where real estate is in short supply, space in community halls and underutilized schools and churches could be shared with the artists to create a centre of art and innovation.
Recent research in 2016 by Stats Canada and Nova Scotia Department Policy and Planning show an encouraging 1,389 establishments for the art industry across Canada with an average annual revenue of $315,000. Nearly 74 per cent of these enterprises are currently profitable. Extrapolating this success for the Golden Loop Project could generate over $100 million in annual revenue and 2,700 new jobs for our region, according to the research. The best part is that most of this new revenue has high potential to remain in the local area as a stream of export dollars to positively impact our region.
To get enough momentum for the initial seven-year life of the project, the initiative will require seeding of approximately $50 million. Over the first seven years approximately $38 million will go to artist wages, $8 million for rental space, and $4 million for materials, supports, administration. Revenues will be generated from sales of artist commodities to help offset administration costs in the early years.
While details remain to be sorted on how best to firm up the project going forward, the concept is deserving of a thorough review by all levels of government. It builds on a fundamental strength for Cape Breton and is inclusive of every region of our island. Focused community, government and business leadership along with strong teamwork will be essential for its success. Now that is thinking outside the box! Is Cape Breton ready to embrace a change?
“Imagine creating our own Soho, Greenwich Village or Yorkville here in Cape Breton.”