David Dean Ellis LL.M MBA BA
The Tale of the disappearing Artist: Article for the Virmani Foundation Winning Voice Newsletter.
A Canadian Story of Economics, Culture and the youth
Fiscal restraint as of recently has been the refrain of many sections of Canadian society. This is understandable given the number of economic challenges faced all over the world after the disaster of 2008 which left many economists, bankers and politicians baffled as to what could have happened.
Unfortunately, however, when this refrain is voiced, the speaker too often has an idea of what that “restraint” would look like and it usually involves cutting back spending on what has become viewed as non essential…… I’m speaking about Arts and Culture.
Yup! There it is! We can survive without another graduate from a fine arts program but we definitely need more accountants and businessmen to help grow our economy because the economy is king after all!!
There are a number of fallacies here to unpack and in this short article I hope to convince you the reader that there is a genuine argument to be made for the arts as being supportive of our economic and biological health.
Non Sequitur (it does not follow) … It does not follow that cutting spending on Art Programs will do anything at all to revive the economy. So far no researcher has been brave enough to conduct research into the negative impact of Arts and culture on the economy. There are however concrete statistics to the contrary such as a 2012 survey by the Ontario arts council which reports that 9.5 million overnight tourists to Ontario participated in arts and culture activities during their trips in 2010 – representing 22% of all Ontario’s overnight visitors. While this activity generated $3.7 billion in GDP province-wide in 2010, 67,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in wages and $1.7 billion in taxes. Pretty impressive figures for the “go to” slashing industry huh? But let’s move on.
False dichotomy… Either we cut spending on “non-essential” activities or the economy will continue to languish. This argument used by many to support the restriction of spending on Arts and Culture is self defeating and generally biased, considering if there is a great dilemma of a poor economy, then cutting spending on Arts and Culture would only increase the scope of the dilemma to a poor economy and a joyless people. That’s right… Arts and Culture do bring joy, life and a sense of identity to a country. The reason why going to Europe or the Caribbean appeals to you the vacationer has a lot to do with the Arts and Culture of the place and not statistics about their overall output and production.
Argumentum ad verecundiam (the appeal to authority). This argument is usually used by those wishing to support spending on art forms which are perceived to be important…..and how is this judged? By the economics of course. So if a Pop singer brings Canada notoriety on the global scale and tons of tourists looking for concert seats to the Air Canada Centre then it is felt that the country should divert money from the visual arts to more productive and economically viable art forms like pop singing. This reasoning process however ignores the fact that it is the fine arts programs like classical vocal training and music appreciation which are the foundation that makes it possible for performers to excel at their craft. So the proverbial “kill the root and kill the tree” lesson is applicable here. We all have seen the decline in the standard of music proven by Joan Serra, a postdoctoral scholar at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute. Joan and his colleagues looked at 500,000 pieces of music between 1955-2010. The results of the study revealed that timbral variety went down over time, meaning songs are becoming more homogeneous. Translation: most pop music now sounds the same. The reason for this was a decline in musical intelligence of the composers and performers. Our fine arts programs therefore are a necessity is Canada is to maintain its standing as a major contributor to arts and culture in the global community.