In 2006, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador released Creative Newfoundland and Labrador: The blueprint for development and investment in culture. By all measures, this was an ambitious document. Spurred by the loss of traditional outport culture, the steady march of globalization and - not insignificantly - rapidly rising oil revenues, The Blueprint outlined a comprehensive strategy for both preserving what we had and fostering further development of the sector ... and committed $17.6 million in new funding over three years to make it happen.
The Blueprint exuded confidence and positivity. While acknowledging that government alone could not overcome all the challenges facing the province’s cultural sector, it asserted that government could and would do more than it had to date. This included a promise to strengthen public cultural programs and infrastructure with increased support and investment, and to establish a clear framework within which all players could work to grow the sector. Heady stuff, but those were heady times. The signing of a revised Atlantic Accord, successive fiscal surpluses for the first time in our province’s history, and record setting economic growth offered our province the possibility of a new beginning. More than a decade later, that enthusiasm has been... well, let’s just say “tempered”. The Blueprint spoke of development, expansion and growth, while today....
Which brings us to yesterday’s announcement that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is embarking on a process of cultural policy renewal. More precisely, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation is leading the development of a 5-year Cultural Action Plan which, according to an April 25th press release, will “revitalize the [province’s] approach to supporting culture”. The completed plan is scheduled for release in early 2019 with stakeholder consultations beginning in St. John’s on .... wait for it .... April 30th. Yup, that’s this coming Monday (A complete list of dates, locations and registration details can be found here).
These consultations are a big deal for anyone engaged in heritage and the arts at any level in this province. Let’s face it, when government talks about “supporting culture” they’re primarily talking about funding - how much, to whom, and for what. Now I hear you when you say you don’t have the time or energy or faith to engage in yet another round of public consultations, but the sector really, really needs your experience and your voice, especially if you’re in rural NL. So please, PLEASE make an effort to attend and speak your mind.
Normally, this is where I’d direct you to the province’s Cultural Policy Renewal website or provide a link to a discussion document prepared by the office of Public Engagement, but as of this morning, there’s nothing. Nada. Zip. I’ve checked and double checked and the response I’ve received from TCII is that the discussion questions are still being tweaked and no background document is being prepared for this stage of consultations.
I’m still holding out hope that some kind of document will be circulated following Tuesday’s consultation session in St. John’s. In the meantime, I offer you a copy of the Cultural Trends report that AHI prepared for BTCRD back in 2014/15. It’s far (far!) from a perfect document, but I’m hoping it will provide some context for the discussions ahead and stimulate some creative thinking about where our sector needs to go, how we can get there, and the role of government in supporting our work. Please have a skim and feel free to get in touch if you have questions, comments or brilliant solutions you’d like to share.
See you at the sessions!