We Saskatchewan People Are Arts and Culture Friendly, and Numbers Back It Up

85

Did you know that more than half of the million-plus folks who live in Saskatchewan create art?

Doesn’t that seem remarkable?

They paint, write, make music, act, dance, take photographs, create audio-visual and interactive media, engage in crafts and do “other participatory activities,” whatever those are.

I learned this last week when SaskBooks sent an email regarding a new study released on March 20 entitled Arts, culture and heritage participation in Canada, by Hill Strategies Research Inc. The firm used Statistics Canada information from 2016 to create a snapshot of how much Canadians create and consume art, and broke the information down by province and major census metropolitan areas. Sadly, Saskatoon and Regina didn’t make the latter list.

How Saskatchewan compared to the other provinces is a bit of a minor point. We weren’t at the top of the list, but we were certainly far from the bottom. I was absolutely amazed that Quebec posted the lowest number of arts creators in Canada, at 40 per cent; the national average was 50 per cent. I always rather thought that province was very focused on its culture. Otherwise, with a few exceptions, most provinces were within a few percentage points of each other on the following ratings:

Percentage of Saskatchewan residents 15 or older attending at least once in 2016:

Made or performed art: 52 per cent

Attended an arts activity, including movie theatres: 87 per cent

Attended an arts activity, excluding movie theatres: 77 per cent

Attended a performance or festival: 72 per cent

Visited a heritage site: 71 per cent

Visited a museum: 53 per cent

Read a book:  75 per cent

Artists would be very happy if we could drive those numbers up closer to 100 per cent, for sure. But I’d still say we’re pretty arts-and-culturally engaged. Granted, the study’s numbers are aging on the vine, but it’s a decent reflection just the same. 

Going further into the numbers, 827,000 people read a newspaper in some format, print or online. That kind of blew me away, as well. 

Our population in 2016 was 1.098 million (it rose to 1.17 million in 2018). That means 75 per cent of all people over 15 read a paper. That, to my mind, is incredible. If people are still reading papers at that spectacularly high rate, why are newspapers having so much trouble attracting advertising? Newspapers have extremely high credibility with readers; and obviously, they still have a lot of them. Since you’re reading this, I want to say thank you. You’re among the great, democratically-interested, information-seeking, community-fascinated folks we ‘arts’ types revere.

One morning last week, I read a fascinating piece in another newspaper, the Saskatoon daily, which beautifully hooks up to my subject. The StarPhoenix published a long op ed by the former CEO of the Remai Modern Art Gallery, Gregory Burke. It was doubly fascinating since Burke is being investigated for harassing an employee while still at the Mendel Art Gallery; and yet, he has spoken out about what’s going on at our mega-million dollar facility.

From his perspective, the gallery was woefully short of funding, which led the board and staff to develop a “courageous and transformational brand” necessary to making the place a success. He also faced “relentless machinations” of city hall, with many board members telling him “I had a bull’s-eye on my back.” Then, he said, city hall engaged in an active campaign to have him removed, even though he had support from independent board members. Who, of course, are also gone.

These comments, I reiterate, are from his point of view, and perhaps the average Saskatonian is unconcerned about his fate. 

However. We should be very interested in his allegations regarding political interference in the running of the gallery. It has come to light that the administrative format of Remai Modern is rare, where council controls the board appointment process. 

We may decide that such interference is or was appropriate. We may not.  

I must say that while I don’t entirely agree with the Remai’s artistic direction, it is unique, and the gallery did attract a great deal of attention and strong attendance. I would also prefer that curators, artists and other trained people make such decisions, as opposed to city councillors and mayors, who have other and different skills.

 Furthermore, councils change (although not all that regularly, at least in Saskatoon.) Do we want a gallery with a constantly-changing direction or style? 

We Saskatchewanians care about our art and our culture; that seems fairly clear in the Hill Strategies research. Not only that, we are paying for it, whether through our taxes or directly by buying a ticket, a book, a work of art. 

In Saskatoon, clarity on who’s running the show must not only be achieved, but be seen to be achieved. And whatever is going on should be shared with those of us footing the bill.