Arts and Economy

The arts (or cultural) industry in Newfoundland and Labrador provides the province's people with a heightened quality of life while at the same time contributing to the local economy. It creates jobs for writers, filmmakers, painters, and other artists, as well as for stage hands, gallery workers, instrument makers, and other people involved in the production, distribution, and marketing of creative works. The sale of CDs, theatre tickets, books, paintings, and similar works keeps money within the province and adds tax dollars to the public purse. Festivals and galleries attract tourists from within and outside the province, whose spending in turn boosts the local economy.

NL filmmakers, 2007.
Local filmmakers on the set of Ruins, a film short set in downtown St. John's.

Photo by Phillip Cairns. Reproduced by permission of Phillip Cairns. © 2007.
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Newfoundland and Labrador filmmakers, October 2007

Statistics Canada reported in 2003 that Newfoundland and Labrador's cultural industries produced approximately $289 million in revenue and accounted for two per cent of the province's Gross Domestic Product. However, it also reported in 2001 that artists here were among the lowest paid in Canada, earning an average annual income of $16,925 as opposed to the national average of $23,490. As a result, many artists have left the province to work elsewhere or abandoned the arts to find employment in other areas. Problems also exist in the cultural industry's marketing sector, as its export trade – both to other provinces and other countries – has potential, but remains underdeveloped.

Cultural Industry

In 1990 the Economic Recovery Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador published This Business of Culture, an independent study of the province's cultural industry and its impact on the local economy. The report's author, John H. Barry, divided the industry into four segments – performing arts (dance, music, theatre, and their support services), visual arts (painters, printmakers, sculptors, and other producers of two- and three-dimensional visual art), literary arts (authors, bookstore operators, publishers, and others who make it possible to write, publish, and sell literary works), and media arts (those involved in film, television, online, and radio production).

Shakespeare By The Sea Festival, 2006 Shakespeare By The Sea Festival, 2006.
Shakespeare By The Sea actors in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Photo by Chris Hibbs. Reproduced by permission of the Shakespeare by the Sea Festival. © 2006.
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The report identified three ways in which the arts, like many industries, contributed to the province's economy. They: 1) attracted buyers from outside the province to spend money on locally-produced goods (including paintings, music albums, books, and festival tickets); 2) sold goods or services to local consumers who would otherwise have spent money elsewhere; 3) brought money into the province through fundraising efforts with organizations outside of Newfoundland and Labrador, including grants from the federal, but not provincial, government.

The report estimated the cultural industry contributed about $173 million to the local economy in 1990. According to Statistics Canada, that figure reached $186 million in 1995 and $289 million in 2003. Alongside direct revenue earned from the sale of creative works by local artists (which totalled about $20 million in 1990), these estimates take into account income earned by businesses connected to the cultural industry, including periodicals publishing works by local writers, advertising agencies employing local filmmakers, and stores selling musical instruments or art supplies.

Of the $173 million earned in 1990, about $2.1 million came from government funding at both the provincial and federal levels. While artists rely heavily on grants from various government agencies, including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, Barry reported in 1990 that “considering the amount that the industry earns on its own, the jobs created and the various taxes collected by the provincial government, it is evident that in total the province's cultural industries returns to the provincial treasury many times the funding they receive” (129).

Work Force

One of the most important ways the arts contribute to the provincial economy is through the creation of jobs. The cultural industry is labour intensive and spends much of its income on wages and salaries, creating about 6.6 jobs per $100,000 earned (Barry 2). As a result, the labour force is one of the fastest growing in the province. In 1990, for example, the arts provided direct employment for 2,300 workers – including writers, actors, graphic designers, and musicians – and indirect employment for another 1,100 – including framers, sound technicians, costume designers, sheet music suppliers, and printers. By 1995, Statistics Canada reported the total number of direct and indirect workers had grown to 5,532.

Artists in Newfoundland and Labrador are skilled workers who tend to be more highly educated than the overall labour force, with more than half holding university degrees. In general, they are either self-employed or obtain short-term contracts and therefore do not qualify for employment insurance or have medical and retirement plans. Most full-time artists earned $4.61 per hour in 1989, far below the provincial average hourly wage of $11.65. As a result of low income, many artists have to accept full- or part-time work in other areas to support themselves and their families, which limits the quality and quantity of their creative output.

The 31st NL Folk Festival poster, 2007.
Music, film, literary, and other arts festivals contribute to Newfoundland and Labrador's economy by attracting tourists from within and outside the province.

Poster designed by Erin McArthur. Reproduced by permission of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Council. © 2007.
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Additionally, many artists have to buy their own work supplies – which include musical instruments, canvases, cameras, and computers – or rent rehearsal space and production facilities out of their own pockets. The money they spend, however, goes back into the local economy and creates spin-off jobs for retailers, stage hands, and others. Artistic output also creates other forms of employment, including staff for publishing houses, galleries, and theatres, as well as some positions with the provincial Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Culture. Tourism also benefits from the province's music, film, and literary festivals as well as from its arts exhibitions and other activities that rely on the cultural industries.

Industry Problems

Three major problems affect the economic output of the arts: 1) low artist wages, 2) an underdeveloped export trade, and 3) a limited cultural tourism industry. Poor earnings force some artists to leave the province to find work elsewhere, while others abandon or marginalize their creative pursuits to seek employment in more profitable sectors. In both instances, the province's overall artistic output is diminished.

In addition, the industry primarily serves a local market and has not yet developed a prosperous export trade with other provinces and countries. It also lacks a fully developed cultural tourism industry, which could bring visitors into the province to attend live theatre, festivals, galleries, and similar events and institutions.

The provincial Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Culture acknowledged these shortcomings in its 2006 publication Creative Newfoundland and Labrador. It announced that over the next three years it would spend $17.6 million on the province's cultural industry, which includes doubling the budget for the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, a major funding agency for the province's artists. In 2007, the department also created a Status of the Artist Working Committee with a mandate to investigate the socioeconomic status of the province's professional artists and recommend ways to make their working conditions more stable and financially secure. Committee members include visual artists, playwrights, poets, filmmakers, and other members of the arts community.

Article by Jenny Higgins. ©2008, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site

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