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Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Report on Arts is Misleading

By John Brotman

Dear Editor: While the article Arts, Sports Waste Tax Money: Study ( March 6, 2002) purported to be about both sports and the arts, it was so clearly focused on professional sports we felt it essential to give your readers some credible information about the arts.

Your report based on the C.D. Howe Institute study by economist John Palmer, states that professional sports teams and arts groups give little or no economic value back to the communities that support them. In the case of the arts, this is just not true.

A few years back, the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) found that arts organizations in Ontario returned 20 per cent more in provincial taxes than they received in provincial government funding. Statistics Canada data estimates that the economic impact of Ontario's arts and culture sector is $19.1 billion or on a per capita basis that is more than $1,700 in economic return for every Ontario resident.

While it may not be true of high-profile sports figures, the more than 50,000 professional artists in Ontario work, live and spend money in communities throughout the province. If, as the study says, some people are investing money outside of the country, there are many people who are bringing it in. The work of artists attracts many visitors to our communities.

In 1998, more than 6.5 million overnight visitors to Ontario participated in cultural activities. These overnight cultural visitors spent $2.8 billion in Ontario, representing nearly one-third of spending by all overnight visitors to the province.

The notion that the arts are mere entertainment for the rich is simply false. Let me give you a very specific example. A few days ago, OAC's music officer attended a performance by the Timmins Symphony Orchestra. In the middle of a raging blizzard, the 760 seat hall was almost full. This orchestra is a beloved and essential element of the community of Timmins.

OAC's almost $20,000 grant to the orchestra contributes to the support of its artistic direction and several core professional musicians. This allows the community players who include miners, nurses, business people, a school principal and others, the experience of performing challenging repertoire.

The value of the arts is so much more than the real estate value highlighted by the study. Ontarians recognize this: 92 per cent of Ontarians said that the arts helped enrich their quality of lives (1998 Environics Research Group Ltd. survey)

Their arts attendance habits also supported their belief: over the course of a year, 54 per cent of Ontarians, 15 years or older, attend a performing arts event, a festival or an art gallery. We, and many Ontarians, have no doubt that public funding of the arts contributes significantly to the quality of our communities.

John Brotman, Director
Ontario Arts Council

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