What's in a Name?

Last week’s cabinet shuffle ushered in some big changes for the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. While it’s likely too soon to predict what they will mean for the heritage sector, I’d like to suggest that it’s the right time to start asking some serious questions. 

Last week, Premier Davis introduced his new cabinet. The result? Heritage is now within the purview of not just a new minister, but an entirely new department. As of Tuesday, Darin King, MHA for Grand Bank, is the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development (a mouthful which, I’m guessing, we’ll be abbreviating to BTCRD). 

According to a government issued press release, this new department will lead efforts to partner with those who have expertise in the arts, culture, tourism and rural development, noting:

Effective business development serves to diversify the economy in general and rural economies in particular. Rural economic diversification has partly been fueled by tourism development, which has been one of the province’s major success stories over the past decade, creating hundreds of business opportunities and thousands of jobs. The preservation, celebration and presentation of Newfoundland and Labrador’s unique cultures are valued and valuable in their own right and must be supported. Concurrently, they remain a central focus of the province’s overall tourism development strategy.

 

The Up Side

In some respects, the merger of tourism and culture with the former Department of Industry, Business, and Rural Development (IBRD), could be a positive move. Let’s take the issue of funding as an example. During the last decade or so, the vast majority of provincial funding for heritage projects has come not from the Department of Tourism’s budget, but from IBRD initiatives like the Regional Development and Community Capacity Building programs. Need convincing? In August, IBRD announced $94,000 of much needed funding for the Colony of Avalon Foundation. That single amount is nearly double the total project funding available under TCR’s Cultural Economic Development Program for this fiscal year. It’s a bit mind boggling, isn’t it?

Integrating the folks who award most of the funding with the folks who are promoting best practices and implementing minimum standards for heritage organizations makes perfect sense. I’m also hopeful that the merger will finally enable qualified heritage professionals to become recognized as facilitators for training funded under the Community Capacity Building Program ... an Illuminati-esque process that the heritage sector associations have been exploring for some time. Given that this program can be accessed by community-based heritage organizations to receive training in areas like strategic planning, governance, proposal writing, opportunity identification/management, governance, etc., having a pool of facilitators with direct experience in and knowledge of the sector would be incredibly beneficial.

 

The (Potentially) Down Side

While I appreciate government’s nod to the intrinsic value of heritage (that’s the bit in the press release about culture being valued and valuable in its own right), for me, the merger of culture with business, tourism and rural development raises a lot of questions. Tourism and heritage have always been uneasy partners. Yes, heritage plays an important role in supporting tourism in this province, and vice versa. But tourism is not our sector’s only or, in many cases, our primary concern. 

Maintaining an appreciation of our sector’s value that balances instrumental measures like visitor numbers and their demographic profiles, with intrinsic values like intellectual and emotional enrichment, aesthetic experience, identity building and community pride, has never been easy. Will the merger of tourism and culture with business and rural development make this balancing act even more difficult? What impact will it have on program targets and resource allocation? Will it prioritize particular forms of public investment in heritage and, by extension, influence private investment in the same? Will it further emphasize the importance of measuring success through statistical data such as jobs created and the multiplier effect stimulated by public investment? Will it result in an expanded definition of cultural activity that’s used in the context of policy making, one that breaks down the traditional divide between non-profit cultural organizations and private sector industries?

Maybe you think I’m just being paranoid. And maybe I am. But think about it. How might policy directions, funding priorities, and program outcomes be affected if heritage suddenly found itself within the purview of the Department of Education (as it is in Nova Scotia), or the newly created Department of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development? I think labels matter and I’m not alone. 

 

Some Closing Irony

It’s just a little ironic that the unveiling of the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development came within days of the release of two separate reports from Memorial University’s Harris Centre that both challenge the often presumed link between tourism/economic development and culture. As Ivan Emke and Anita Best note in their assessment of the Harris Centre’s past work in the field of rural and regional development:

One observation which emerges from looking at the discussions, in particular, is that heritage and culture were generally folded in with tourism. While these things may have economic exchange value as a touristic commodity, heritage and culture also have intrinsic value in terms of community solidarity, social capital and social cohesion, and thus deserve treatment on their own terms.

Here, here! Let’s hope the folks on the hill are listening.