Why You Should Care About Arts & Culture

Research | March 15, 2016

Art is a meaningful part of the human cultural experience. Many of us mark important times in our lives by the cultural moments in which they occurred: the thrill of hearing Nirvana for the first time, the exaltation of the Sistine Chapel, praise for a fingerpainting, nailing that trumpet solo in ninth grade. Arts and culture are a part of our shared heritage. So, why should you care about supporting arts and culture organizations. We took a snapshot of the issues surrounding arts, culture, and charity in order to paint a clearer picture of how your donations benefit Canadians.

Art, what is it good for?

According to the Canada Council for the Arts, “71% of Canadians attended at least one of the five key arts activities in 2010.” Those five key arts activities are art galleries, theatre performances, popular music performances, classical music performances, and cultural festivals. That’s more than 22 million people. So perhaps the shortest answer is that people enjoy arts and culture activities. It’s hard to imagine what else we might do without a culture in which to participate. The same goes for non-Canadians, many of whom plan trips to Canada to experience cultural attractions, which comes with a distinct financial benefit. The GDP for cultural tourism in 2007 was $5.1 billion, a not-insignificant total.

Criticism of arts spending is often levelled at public works and works acquired with government dollars, perhaps most notably reaching its peak with Voice of Fire, a National Gallery acquisition that is still being discussed decades later. The argument against public art acquisition is usually built around the idea that the money would be better spent elsewhere. While that may or may not be true, the economic effect of public art is undeniable. A study by the Public Art Fund in New York found that a $15.5 million investment in a public work called New York City Waterfalls earned the city more than $69 million. It’s hard to argue with a 450% return on investment, regardless of whether or not you agree with the artistic merit of a public work.

KeysToTheStreets-22Public art is also a great way to build communities. The Keys to the Streets program in Vancouver placed pianos around the city. Local artists painted them to create highly visible works of art and the pianos were available for anyone to play. The intent of the project was to bring people together through music and combat some of the social isolation suffered by many in the rainy Pacific Northwest. At any of the eleven sites around the city during the event you could find strangers gathered around the piano, singing songs and dancing.

The arts can also facilitate introduction to a new culture. The Canada Council for the Arts is supporting efforts by arts and culture organizations to introduce Syrian refugees to cultural events in the towns where they have settled. The program is meant to function as a welcome to new Canadians, as well as a low-cost way to encourage participation in their communities. Even charities whose main focus is not art can use art as way to encourage community integration. MOSAIC in Burnaby, BC, uses arts classes such as calligraphy, as well as an annual music and arts festival to build cultural knowledge in newcomers.

Why is arts education important?

Going out to enjoy arts and culture is all well and good but someone has to create, compose, and curate the things we want to see. For many artists, creation starts at a young age with a solid foundation of scholarship in a specific area, such as music or fine art school, eventually leading to success later in life. But education in creative arts has other benefits as well, both for the individual and for society as a whole.

ArtStarts is a program in British Columbia that funds arts education in public school classrooms. However, the end goal is not to teach children to be virtuoso pianists or impressionist painters. Teachers use creative instruction to teach things like project-based collaborative learning. Program manager Elfred Matining suggests that this type of education also works to de-stigmate mistakes, standing in stark contrast to the multiple choice, standardized testing that dominates the curriculum later in life.

In January we posted a story about a friend of ours, David Vertesi, who put on a successful charity concert five years running that benefitted Saint James Music Academy, a music school on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As a registered charity, the SJMA accepts your donations to fund music education programs. But the true intent of the school is as an outreach centre, where at-risk kids can learn to be creative problem solvers; they are also given nutritious snacks and positive reinforcement from teachers and staff. To quote from their website, “music is the energy that fuels the process for positive social transformation.”

Types of Funding

Arts organizations benefit from multiple funding sources, some more stable than others. ArtStarts and other programs can utilize Community Amenity Contributions,which are contributions to the arts made by developers as part of the rezoning process. Since city facilities are put under additional stress by property development, the City has deemed it the responsibility of corporations to make up for some shortfall.

In addition to local government funding schemes, arts and culture programs may also find funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, an arm’s length federal body whose mission is “to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts.” However, government funding tends to ebb and flow with the tide of politics. The poet laureate of St. John’s, Newfoundland recently quit over cuts to arts funding. Wide cuts to arts funding were enacted following the 2008 recession. Sometimes cuts are economic, sometimes they are made in a bid to please a special interest group, but the fact remains that government arts funding can be unstable.

And that’s where charities come in. Registered charitable status allows museums, music schools, fine arts programs and other organizations that work in a cultural space and provide a service to the public to accept donations and put them to good use, either in their own programs, or as grants to artists and cultural institutions. That is, as long as people like you are willing to donate.

As with all donation decisions, it is up to the donor to determine which charity to give to. There are many local, provincial and national arts and culture charities, each with its own set of goals and aspirations. A great place to start your research is with our Top Rated Arts & Culture Charities, built with information from our friends at Charity Intelligence.

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