A culture of policy announcements: 30% is a good step

By DJ Kelly January 26, 2008

This morning the provincial government unveiled their much anticipated (at least it was anticipated a year and a half ago) cultural policy. (You can read it here.)

I was extremely impressed with the number of people that showed up to the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Turnout was such that there were not enough chairs and about one third of the audience had to stand. It is fantastic to see that there are that many people in Calgary that believe it is about time that Alberta once again had a cultural policy guiding them. And it was good to see Peter Lougheed front and centre leading the charge. (Unless they were trotting him out as a publicity stunt.)

The big news of the day however was probably the fancy dual press conference technology – Minister Hector Goudreau in Edmonton and Premier Ed Stelmach in Calgary – that allowed both cities the honour of participating in the announcement together. (That and watch the premier befuddled by said technology: “Hopefully this works.” Yes it has been working for 10 minutes already. “I guess they are still clapping.” Yup. You have two audiences listening. That’s how it works. That’s the point of all this.)

All kidding aside there was good news for arts and culture practitioners in the content of the press conference: “Alberta’s Cultural Policy”. Which like most policies has keystone goals and guiding principles et al, but there were a couple real numbers included too. All in all, it will be a $12 million investment in arts and culture, which includes $1.6 million for the Alberta Film and Television Development Fund and a 30% increase to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

To put that last number in perspective the Calgary arts community has been advocating for about 5 years for a doubling (100%) increase to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts which before 2002 hadn’t received an increase since the early 80s. So, to the arts community this announcement is a very positive thing, but is only being seen as a first step.

On the negative side I’m not sure what to think of the announcement that the government is expanding its definition of “culture” to include sport and recreation. I agree this can – and perhaps should – fall into the province’s definition of “culture”, but I certainly hope this will not be at the expense of the inclusion of “art”. It’d be a shame to see money earmarked for one funnelled to the other.

The real good news for all in the room – myself included – was this was the first time the arts community has heard the government use the same language we’ve been using during the advocacy process. Could it be that the message is finally getting through? I hope so. Or is it just that Michelle Stanners wrote the premier’s speech? None-the-less its wonderful to hear a provincial government talking about culture once again.

Although, certainly I would have like to have seen more hard commitments during a press conference with such fancy technology.

PS – When I got home I was impressed to see the Alberta Liberal Caucus had already emailed me a copy of their Arts Policy. Comparables? A doubling of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts in their first year and a tripling by the end of their third year as the government. Tough not to give this round to the Liberals who are taking the Calgary arts community’s ask and going above and beyond it. That’s something most everyone tends to like to see in their government. (Of course they are the opposition and can promise whatever they like at this point. They are after all just trying to get elected.)

[On the arts front: I’ll blog more later about British academic John Holden’s lecture on “Arts and Politics” which was presented by Calgary Arts Development last night. I was lucky enough to get to sit beside Mr. Holden at dinner on Wednesday night. He certainly had lots to say and for us, arts folk and politicians, to think about.]