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"We need an arts hero": Toronto High School students said so

SPECIAL OP-ED CONTRIBUTION TO OISE NEWS BY MARISOL D’ANDREA

 
Days after the recent Federal election, students at the Rosedale Heights School of the Arts put on a musical entitled Revue. Against the backdrop of musical reflections throughout history, students performed in solos, duets, small groups  and large group ensembles. They also sang and delivered monologues, including a crescendo piece that culminated in a deafening chant—“We need an arts hero!” at which time a large screen beamed in a photo of Justin Trudeau, wearing his red boxing gloves. Thunderous applause greeted this hopeful refrain.
 
One can’t fault this crowd for some post-electoral optimism. After all, Mr. Trudeau has promised to increase funding for the arts. The Liberal website
Arts
 lists promises that include: “doubling investment in the Canada Council for the Arts to $360 million each year; increasing funding for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, with a new investment totaling $25 million each year; and restoring the Promart and Trade Routes international cultural promotion programs cut by Stephen Harper, and increasing funding in these programs to $25 million each year.”   Given the almost anti-arts stance of the outgoing Harper government, Trudeau’s campaign promises are almost other-worldly by comparison.
 
The precarious world of the arts never seems to be a front-burner issue for governments. Federally speaking, it seems like we have to go back to the 1960s when investments made during the Pierre Trudeau era were aimed at fostering a Canadian identity through the growth of the arts and cultural sector. Will the son continue his father’s legacy?
 
Today’s Trudeau has made many important gestures regarding a better future. Tweaking Bill C-51, restoring the long form census, allowing government scientists to let evidence ring, a move on climate change and just holding Federal-provincial meetings on anything, are all low hanging fruit.  As well, political observers have also said that arts and culture are big winners in this election. 
 
Naturally, those who advocate for arts support have been trained to move beyond “arts for art’s sake” to making a broader case. Trudeau seems to get this as he noted “our artists, producers, composers, and technicians are world leaders in their fields and undeniable Canadian assets."  Echoing his father’s actions decades earlier, he has said that “culture is what defines us, brings us together.”
 
The economic return of the arts investment has been made many times. For instance, for every $1 granted to an arts organization by The Toronto Arts Council, $14.56 is received from other levels of government, the private sector or earned revenue including ticket sales. In August 2015, the Hill Strategies report estimated that the direct economic impact of culture industries was $53.4 billion in Canada in 2010, or 3.4% of Canada's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2010, there were 707,000 jobs directly related to culture industries, or 4.1 % of total employment. What’s more, the direct economic impact of culture is ten times larger than the sports estimate ($5.2 billion).
 
In an age, where too many provinces have cut arts programs for the schools, it is painfully obvious that this comes with a huge loss of core opportunities to promote innovative thinking and creativity throughout our educational continuum, from the early years through post-secondary. 
 
Given this importance of the arts as a key building block for a better society, will the Liberals deliver on the arts promises and more? Mr. Trudeau will hopefully understand that when it comes to “low hanging fruit” for early action, arts and culture funding is the most fruitful. With the image of our new Prime Minister donning his red boxing gloves in mind, he has a grateful chorus urging him to, indeed, become Canada’s arts hero. Supporting the arts is definitely worth fighting for. 
 
 
Marisol D’Andrea is a PhD Candidate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto in the Department of Leadership, Adult and Higher Education. Twitter: @Marisol_DAndrea
 
Photo courtesy of Sarah Bland, Elexus Robertson and Cici Vogan-Lowe. Michiko Mckinnie is pictured.