Recently, the Saskatchewan government released information surrounding the creation of a new agency to support the second and third and leg of the arts continuum. “What the hell are you talking about?” You may be asking. “What in the blue hell is an arts continuum?”
I know you’re asking this, because most of the criticism I’ve seen against the move by the government to create this agency has been all about how this will be the death knell for the Saskatchewan Arts Board (the oldest standing arms-length arts funding agency in the world, after London). I’ve heard that the creation of this agency was meant as a replacement for the film employment tax credit. Murray Mandryk mistakenly, in his column in the Regina Leader Post, claims that a fund included in this announcement was “siphoned” from the Arts Board and that the government “replaced a grant system for the film industry with a far less lucrative grant system for the entire arts community”. (Mandryk’s column in the Leader Post is here.)
I’m going to tell you what (in my opinion) the government has done wrong in this whole schlameel. First, they got rid of the Film Employment Tax Credit. That was just stupid. It was short-sighted, and it firmly placed Saskatchewan in last place in most of North America when it comes to progressive, revenue-generating programs for industrial arts grants. Second, they have not done very much (and it’s not just the government here; we all of us in the Creative Industries need to do more) to educate the people of this province about what the Creative Industries are and how they differ from “the Arts” and “Culture”.
So, with your indulgence, I’m going to tell you what the Creative Industries are and why what the SaskParty government is doing with Creative Saskatchewan is a Good Thing. I’m also going to tell you why Murray Mandryk is so wrong about that one million dollar ‘transitional fund’.
The Arts Continuum – Here’s how it works: And artist is a creator. Artists create art because that is their profession. Because they are driven to do so. Writers, painters, photographers, dancers, actors, musicians, sculptors, graphic artists, etc., are all *creators*. You/we make things from nothing. We transform things that already exist into something else. We are engaged in the creation of art. Some of us do this for the sake of art. Some of us do this to try to make a living. The arts in Canada must be publicly funded – and what I mean here is that there must be public funding for artists to create art. That is the role of the Saskatchewan Arts Board. They help make it possible for artists to create, and they help to promote and to foster an understanding and appreciation for the arts and for the importance of the arts. The Saskatchewan Arts Board is an integral part of Saskatchewan, and it isn’t going anywhere. I hope to God it isn’t going anywhere.
Once the creation process is complete, some art forms then go on to a production stage. This is the industrial component of the Arts Continuum, and it encompasses, but is not limited to, the commercialisation of the artistic product. What I mean is, a musician composes a song (art) and performs the song (art) and then records the song (production) and then sells the record (commercialisation). A writer pens a novel (art) and reads from the novel (art) and a publisher accepts the manuscript for publication (production) and sells the book (commercialisation). A producer finds a script she likes (an artistic product) and hires a director and actors to perform the screenplay (production) on film. That film is then distributed (commercialisation) and sold.
The Creative Industries are the PRODUCERS of artistic products. They are the art galleries, the recording studios (or the musicians themselves, if they produce their own recordings), the book publishers (or the writers themselves if they self-publish), the theatre companies, the film producers, the craftspeople and artisans whose primary focus is to distribute, sell, and market their products. Creative Saskatchewan is being constructed (and it’s important to note that this agency is still in gestational form – nothing is solid in its creation yet) for the purposes of supporting Creative Industries in a similar fashion to how the Saskatchewan Arts Board fosters artists and creators.
Many arts-focussed agencies (like the SK Arts Board) do not focus on sales, distribution, marketing, production, market penetration, etc.. Many arts-focussed agencies concentrate on supporting “the arts” and the CREATION of art. What the SaskParty Government is doing here is trying to foster the Creative Industries. The commercial aspect of the arts which is often kind of forgotten or overlooked. There are agencies that exist like this for the non-creative industries.
British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes provinces all have some kind of Creative Industries support. In most provinces in Canada, a model similar to what the government proposes for Creative Saskatchewan is in place IN ADDITION TO publicly funded arts agencies like the Saskatchewan Arts Board. The creative industries agencies help producers to access domestic and international markets with cultural products (books, movies, music, craftworks, visual art, dance productions, theatre productions, etc.). So what the SaskParty government is trying to do is to put Saskatchewan in the front of Canada’s Creative Industries, not have us trailing behind.
In other words, this agency is not, and was never proposed to be a “replacement for the Film Employment Tax Credit”. Creative Industry Sector Organisations have been talking about a creative industries agency for YEARS. Long before the government axed a perfectly good revenue-generation support for an entire industry. Be angry about their having axed that program. Be VERY angry about it. But don’t pretend that Creative Saskatchewan is intended to be a replacement or a band-aid or a consolation prize. And the film sector has been, is, and will be included in all of the planning for this agency. It’s not like the province just said “screw you; here’s your gift bag, go home” to the film industry.
This one million dollar fund that Murray Mandryk claims is being “siphoned” from the SK Arts Board was established years ago. Initially it was money that was supposed to be used for something entirely different. The SK Arts Board became the steward of that fund (following a review of the music industry in Saskatchewan, when all of the Creative Industries Sector Organisations were moved from one funding agency to another [from SaskCulture to SK Arts Board]) and it became their $1.15M revolving loan program. The truth of the matter is that that fund was under-utilized. It was not accessible to many creative industry applications because of the nature of their business models. The SK Arts Board did everything in their power to increase the use of the fund, but it just wasn’t something that most creative industries could use. The SK Arts Board, working with the Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport, have transitioned that fund from something completely unusable to something that DOES have real applications in the creative industries. So it’s not being siphoned from anywhere. It’s been changed so that people and cultural industries producers can actually use it.
What are the Creative Industries in Saskatchewan? Again, here the media releases have it a little wrong. “Writing” is not a creative industry. Writing is an artistic endeavour. PUBLISHING is a creative industry. Currently, the Creative Industries Sectors (and their related organisations) are: music (SaskMusic), film and television (SaskFilm and SMPIA), book publishing (Saskatchewan Publishers Group), craft (Saskatchewan Craft Council), art galleries (SaskArt), dance production (Dance Saskatchewan), theatre production (currently without an industry organisation but represented by individuals from the theatre production community), visual arts (CARFAC), and digital arts (and I’m ashamed that I can’t remember the name of the organisation that represents digital arts – which includes the games industry, btw). In all the media releases you have seen, “writing and publishing” has been included as a creative industry, and that’s wrong. It’s a small error, but it’s one that sticks in my craw.
It indicates that the government’s big mistake here is in not being as clear as possible about something that most of the people in this province have not heard of, are not familiar with, and don’t understand. Another shameful oversight is that nowhere in the media release or anywhere on the Government’s website is it indicated that Saskatchewan has and has had a well-established Creative Industries Council (a non-profit organisation developed by and run by people from the five original cultural industries organisations in the province) for years. Its website is here: http://www.culturalindstries.sk.ca.
So. That’s the deal. The SK Arts Board isn’t going to be taken over by Creative Saskatchewan. They have completely different mandates (or they will, once CS is actually created), and completely different applications, and completely different sectors/patrons. The provincial government isn’t trying to replace the Film Employment Tax Credit with this transitional fund, and they’re not trying to squeeze film out of the new agency. Their big mistake is in not taking up the mantle of public education about the Creative Industries, and, on a smaller scale, of *still* not quite getting it right when it comes to the publishing sector.