Culture is back…. Or is it?

Earlier this morning, Minister Mitchelmore announced effective immediately, the provincial Department of Tourism, Industry and Innovation would be changed to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation (TCII). Furthermore, Minister Mitchelmore stated the dropping of the word culture from the Department's title was an unintended consequence of the recent restructuring.

Yes folks, culture is back ... or is it? 

On Friday, Minister Mitchelmore’s office confirmed that the 24 management positions eliminated from TCII include the Director of Heritage and the Director of Arts. The responsibilities of these two positions will be transferred to an as-of-yet undetermined position. Current best guess is a Director of Culture that will combine management of both heritage and arts, but that hasn’t been confirmed. 

Status Quo?

Exactly where this Director will fit within the newly streamlined department remains to be seen. Current bets are that (s)he will continue to report to the ADM of Tourism & Culture. Status quo? Maybe, maybe not. Just this morning, I heard that TCII will be one of five government departments in which the Deputy Minister reports directly to the Premier and Executive Council. Which begs the question, what is the role of the Minister? Again, none of this has been officially confirmed. 

And speaking of the Minister.... On Friday, Minister Mitchelmore reassured ArtsNL and Twitter followers that there are no planned cuts to cultural programs, including CEDP. Whether this refers just to cuts as part of the departmental restructuring or also extends to the upcoming budget, remains to be seen. 

Fixing Past Mistakes

One of the current government’s key arguments for a reduction in the size of NL’s public sector (and in particular, the size of its management) is to eliminate the bloat that occurred under the last decade or so of Tory power. But last week’s “streamlining” wasn't focused solely on those recently created positions. 

The Director of Cultural Affairs and the Director of Historic Resources positions (effectively equivalent to the current Directors of Arts and Heritage) were created by the Smallwood government back in 1967. “Culture” first appeared in the name of a provincial government department back in 1979, when the Peckford administration created the Department of Tourism, Recreation of Culture. It’s been a part of various incarnations ever since (Cultural Affairs, Tourism & Historic Resources in the 1980s; Tourism and Culture in 1992; Tourism, Culture and Recreation in 2008, and most recently, Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development). 

Beyond the Overpass

And what about Rural Development? While social media was awash with cries of “bring back culture”, demands for a similar return of rural development were nonexistent. At the risk of being jumped in some downtown St. John’s alley, I’ll suggest that’s because so many of our sector’s advocates (including me) are townies. And from within the overpass, it’s easy to forget just how vital a role Regional Development support and funding plays in the sustainability of rural heritage organizations, and how central heritage organizations are to the sustainability and vitality of rural Newfoundland.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve had plenty of heated discussions with the folks in Rural Development. But on the whole, they got. They understood the challenges faced by community-led heritage organizations AND the contributions they make to their respective communities. This is especially true at the regional office level, where staff, more often then not, have first-hand knowledge of applicant organizations. Word is many of last week’s cuts were to the regional offices of Rural Development. If that’s true, it’s a real blow to our sector.

Far From Job Done

As I wrote in last week’s post, I don’t believe the recent changes were, as the Minister states, new packaging for business as usual. Instead, I think they represented a significant leap forward in what has been a gradual but steady commodification of heritage and the arts. And while the reinstatement of “culture” in the department’s name is certainly a victory for our sector, I’d suggest it’s far from job done.