Growing B.C.'s Workforce Through Consistent Investment in British Columbia's Public Arts and Culture Sector



In 2014, this policy was written to communicate the impact the public arts and culture sector* makes in developing innovation and critical thinking skills essential to today’s workforce and how investment in this sector equates to investment in B.C.’s economic future. In 2017 this policy still aligns with the B.C. government’s commitment to make strategic investments to: “strengthen and encourage growth in key economic sectors.”[1]


The three areas addressed in the 2014 policy were capital investment in long term arts and culture infrastructure; structural review of the BC Arts Council** to ensure equitable distribution of funds; and annual core funding for the operation of regional & municipal cultural institutions with a professional mandate to provide cultural services in their community.

Creative City Network of Canada’s 2017 report “Cultural Infrastructure: An Integral Component of Canadian Communities” states: “To ensure that the cultural resources of our evolving communities are encouraged to grow and mature and to contribute to the broader development of our society, there is an urgent need to:

  • Recognize and plan for cultural infrastructure as an integral component of infrastructure for 21st-century cities and communities
  • Rethink our approach to cultural infrastructure, with greater attention to issues of lifecycle, the interaction of social and built infrastructure, and long-term sustainability” and further that: “There is a need for municipalities to have new tools to access and build financial resources for cultural infrastructure funding.”

One of the largest capital funding sources for public cultural facilities is through the Strategic Priorities Fund which was created to manage the disbursement of some of the funds collected through the federal gas tax program.  In the 2017 Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Program Guidelines, The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) defines Cultural Infrastructure as “Infrastructure that supports arts, humanities, and heritage Museums for:

  • The preservation of designated heritage sites
  • Local government owned libraries and archives
  • Facilities for the creation, production, and presentation of the arts
  • Infrastructure in support of the creation of a cultural precinct within an urban core.”

Although the Strategic Priorities Fund can be accessed to fund art and cultural facilities and museums, against core infrastructure, cultural facilities lose out almost 100% of the time. Funds are disproportionately allocated to other sectors also eligible under the SPF, causing a gap in funding for the public arts and culture sector. For example the 2015 SPF saw an allocation of funding of close to $100 million for local projects across B.C.. Not one of those projects was for a cultural facility.             

For many, art exposure and creative skills begin with early and ongoing engagement in public art galleries, museums and cultural organizations. Ontario’s Business for the Arts publication “A strategic and economic business case for private and public sector investment in the arts in Canada” reports that funding cultural organizations releases the value of creating and presenting art to the entire community and causes a cascade of economic benefits.[2]

The document noted above goes into specific details as to the ROI that flows from investing in Arts and Culture by reviewing three successful Canadian organizations, but it is worth noting that the research summarized the return on investment as:

  • Public sector support of the arts leverages private sector support
  • In 2007, 62% of the $958 million in external investment in the arts was from the public sector
  • Direct benefits (e.g., ticket sales, concessions) earn back the initial investment amount
  • Indirect benefits (e.g., tourism, multiplier effects) have the potential to generate even higher returns
  • As organizations mature, there is a shift from public funding to private support
  • Growth in earned revenue has usually outpaced external funding, increasing the rate of return on investment
  • Corporate benefits: regional development, corporate social responsibility, attraction of creative employees, marketing benefits
  • Social benefits: education, community engagement, national brand identity, multiculturalism

The report further notes that the business community can take a leadership role in investing in the arts in Canada by initiating strategic public-private partnerships.

The benefits of innovation and creative skills to business communities

B.C. Creative Futures, a B.C. government three-part strategy to support sustainable, long-term success for the province’s creative sector[3] was a step in the right direction and recognized the need for funding to build a creative workforce for B.C.’s future. A 2017 - 2018 initiative that supports public art organizations are capital grants from the British Columbia government is the “Collaborative Spaces Program” under the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development’s Creative Economy Strategy a plan to grow the creative economy.[4]

What is referred to as the creative sector could include most business sectors in British Columbia. Some businesses that currently rely on the artistic and creative minds in B.C.’s workforce are: the Digital and Internet Technology Industry, the Film and Television Industry, the Building and Structural Design Industry, Publishers, the News and Broadcast Sector, The Fashion Industry, The Culinary Sector, The Jewelry Industry, Product Design and Manufacturing, Urban and Landscape Designers, Educational Institutions, Tourism, the for-profit Arts and Culture Sector and Sciences.

Most think of sciences as not relating to the arts, but a study by a team of multidisciplinary researchers following a group of Michigan State University Honors College graduates from 1990 to 1995 who majored in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), indicates otherwise. They found of that group, those who own businesses or patents received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.[5] This study is one of several linking engagement in the arts with significant increases in performance in sectors not traditionally associated with the arts. The arts may not have been essential for these students to become scientists but the ones who had exposure to the arts performed better from a business perspective. Exposure to the arts improves creative and critical thinking, useful skills for most occupations.

One study resulting in improved critical thinking skills involved nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participating in a year long, random-assignment study of school tours to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, where it was determined that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.[6]

In Dr. Sharon McCoubrey’s (professor, University of British Columbia Okanagan) speech on “Letting the Arts Contribute to your Economic Success” she teaches communities about the distinct correlations between economic success and investment in the arts. When addressing global competitiveness, she quotes Robert Lynch: “In today’s global economy, the competitive business edge belongs to innovators - those providing creative solutions that lead to prosperity in the marketplace. Leaders in government, business, and education are getting savvy to what those in the arts have long known: to fuel creativity and innovation, you need to invest in the arts.”[7]

British Columbia’s public art galleries, museums and cultural organizations are accessible to all B.C.’s citizens and function as foundations and hubs for most other arts and culture activities in our communities. These public organizations provide arts and culture exposure, experience and education to all age-levels on a consistent and ongoing basis and are essential to building a creative workforce. 

British Columbia’s public arts sector’s role in the B.C. Creative Economy

As foundations and hubs to many arts and culture activities in B.C.’s communities, public arts and cultural organizations can play key roles in developing British Columbia’s creative economy under their own programming and also as part of the B.C. government’s Creative Economy Strategy.[8] Many of the almost 300 B.C. public art galleries, museums and art organizations are foundations for other art and cultural activities in their communities across the province.

Most current funding for this sector is obtained through annual provincial funding applications, one time project based funding applications and through municipal funds. Some larger public arts and cultural organizations also successfully apply for federal funding. These funding sources vary in amounts and frequency year to year and vary from community to community at times resulting in cuts to projects or staffing.

The BC Alliance for Arts + Culture’s 2017 Provincial Election Platform for Arts, Culture and Heritage states that: “A series of research projects [9], carried out for the Alliance by Hill Strategies Research Inc. and funded in part by the Vancouver Foundation, included an analysis of the revenue sources of 19 B.C. arts organizations from eight communities compared to 37 arts organizations in other provinces. A key finding of the study was that provincial and federal government funding tends to be lower for B.C. arts organizations than similar organizations in other provinces.”

Per Capita Arts Council Funding by Province

Alieda Blandford, Reference Librarian | Legislative Library of British Columbia, provided a current table of per-capita Arts Council funding by province (table below), with reference to the latest provincial budgets and population data. (PEI, Yukon, and Nunavut are not included, due to the complexities of their funding models.)

With a B.C. government budget surplus of nearly $300 M in 2015-16, the budgets dedicated to arts and culture: the envelopes for Creative BC, Arts Culture and BC Arts Council, and the BC Arts and Culture Endowment Special Fund remained virtually the same (total increase of 0.05% over 2014-15, from $26,063M to $26,79M);[10]The 2015-2016 provincial and territorial budget analysis, “In Search of the Creative Economy”, published by the Canadian Conference of the Arts Centre on Governance, Ottawa, Ontario, provided an overview of these budgets. Here are some of the statistics:

  • B.C. consistently has the 3rd highest culture GDP and jobs in the country ahead of Alberta and behind Ontario and Quebec. Our culture GDP represents three percent of B.C.’s economy and 12.2% of culture GDP in Canada;[11]
  • Federal government funding for the Canada Council For the Arts, 2016-17 is set to $220 million—a 20% surge, but $140 million short of the original fall promise of $360 million. The doubling of the Council budget to $360 million under this plan is scheduled to happen in 2020–2021.[12]

In the Alliance for Arts + Culture, Executive Director, Brenda Leadlay’s 2016 submission to the B.C. legislature's standing committee on finance and government services states that “British Columbia has more artists per capita than any other province but remains the province with the lowest cultural funding per capita, despite the fact that B.C. residents rank in the top three provinces with the highest cultural consumption rates of arts and culture. Most arts organizations in B.C. still face the same three issues - staff capacity, facilities, and financial stability.”


For B.C.’s public Arts and Cultural sector to move into the future with B.C.’s Creative Future’s Strategy and help build a provincial creative workforce for our business community, consistent and long-term funding for B.C.’s public art galleries, museums and cultural organizations is an investment in our future economy.


That the Provincial Government:

  1. establish a separate and dedicated capital fund for cultural facilities by allocating funds from the Strategic Priorities Fund and creating a new fund that British Columbia’s local governments can access for investment in long term strategic arts and culture infrastructure for public art galleries, museums and cultural amenities; and

  2. work with all stakeholders to develop a strategy to reach the “aspirational goal” of ensuring B.C. is among the provincial leaders in funding the public arts and cultural sector on a per/capita basis while continuing to strengthen the provisioning organizations such as the BC Arts Council.


* Publicly funded arts and culture sector including museums.
** The BC Arts Council is an agency of the Province of British Columbia, created in 1995 through the Arts Council Act.

[1] Strong Economy Supporting British Columbians – Balanced Budget 2015 Highlights, B.C. Ministry of Finance, February 17, 2015

[3] B.C.’s Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, “News Release” 31st January, 2013

[4] B.C.’s Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, “Collaborative Spaces” January 18th, 2017

[5] Michigan State University. "A young Picasso or Beethoven could be the next Edison." ScienceDaily, 23 October 2013. <>.

[6] Kisida, Brian, senior research associate and Greene, Jay P., professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Bowen, Daniel H., postdoctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute of Rice University. “Art makes you smart” New York Times, 23 November 2013

[7] Lynch, Robert, President and CEO, Americans for the Arts “Arts & Economic Prosperity, The Economic Impact of Non-profit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences” files/pdf/information_services/research/services/economic_impact/aepiii/national_report.pdf

[8] B.C. Ministry of Sports, Recreation, Arts & Culture’s “Creative Economy Strategy”

[10] BC Alliance for Arts + Culture,  The State of Arts and Culture in BC Budget 2017

[11] Brenda Leadlay, executive director, B.C. Alliance for Arts + Culture “B.C. Alliance for Arts + Culture pre-budget submission zeroes in on economic and social benefits of the arts” The Georgia Straight

[12] Caoimhe Morgan-Feir and Leah Sandals, Canadian Art - “Budget 2016: What Artists & Art Orgs Need to Know “

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