Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Brault's No Culture No Future -- Taking up the invitation to discuss how we put culture on the public policy agenda

Happily, this summer I completed Simon Brault’s No Culture, No Future.

An enjoyable read, it reinforced, once again, the challenge of putting culture on the mainstream public policy agenda. For those of us engaged in the cultural sector, the arguments and imperatives of robust cultural policies and programs at every level of government are clear and obvious. We forget though that in many ways, we are speaking only to ourselves with little regard to the importance that others attribute to cultural activity. The realization that the participation rate of Canadians in cultural activities is remaining stable at less than 5% is a sobering figure indeed. (Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Report Highlights, Leisure and Culture, June 2010).

If Canadians don’t see themselves engaging in cultural activity, which many don’t, it’s hard for policy makers to make arts and culture policy a priority.

Brault makes clear that “we must address without delay the issue of attendance at arts events and participation in the arts” if we want arts and culture to move to the forefront of policy discussion. With attendance remaining, at best, stable, we have a distance to go.

More and more money is invested in culture from all sectors, including government, a point acknowledged by Brault in his book. As we look towards an increasingly challenging fiscal environment in the years ahead, it will be imperative to demonstrate to government that Canadians are engaged in the rich array of arts and cultural opportunities and activities offered across the province and country. Culture Days, happening next month, is a great step in the right direction.

Simon Brault is clear that he would like his book to enrich public discussion on cultural policy. He has already gone some distance to achieving that, recognizing that most cultural policy watchers I know have the book on their ‘must read’ summer list. The impending municipal election season in Ontario, together with the reality that Ontario and federal elections will soon follow, provide us all with a great opportunity to sustain the conversation.

Note: The Toronto Mayoral Arts Debate happens Wednesday 29 September, 7 pm at the AGO. Watch for more news on this, and other major arts related municipal election events, in the blog and on our twitter feed.