Newfoundland and Labrador has long been a place that’s renowned and respected for its vibrant arts and cultural scene. From our many writers, musicians, dancers, visual artists and more, we are well represented and established on the provincial and national stage. The arts not only provide a means of emotional and intellectual expression, they also promote critical discussion and dialogue, support lively communities, help boost the economy, and make places more appealing to residents, newcomers, businesses and investors.
But where is arts support in Newfoundland and Labrador coming from, how are people contributing and how does this support compare nationally? The answers to these questions have remained somewhat of a mystery. But one researcher at Memorial University is hoping to shed some light on the topic.
Having picked up a request submitted by Business & Arts NL through Yaffle (Memorial University’s online resource that allows users to find an expert, recommend research ideas and more) and published in Memorial’s newspaper the Gazette, Dr. Jennifer Dyer, Director, Graduate Program in Humanities, has initiated a study that will look at arts funding in the province. The research project, which began in January, will use independent interviews and surveys, as well as statistics and published data, to examine who is supporting the arts in the province (both public and private); how they are supporting it; what kind of support the arts requires; and offer recommendations on how this support can be optimized. The study will also compare this information with other jurisdictions to discover where Newfoundland and Labrador stands in relation to the other Atlantic provinces and the country as a whole.
Unlike other provinces, not much data exists concerning arts funding in Newfoundland and Labrador. The hope is that the study will help to fill in some of the blanks while identifying how to best serve the arts community. And a viable arts community will also help lead to an engaged society, and a happy and healthy community and economy, says Dr. Dyer.
“When you’re supporting the arts, you’re supporting pretty much every sector of our economy. When we pursue the arts, we are pursuing shared goals. We’re talking about ways of learning how to understand the world we live in. We’re talking about the values that we have as a society like freedom, experimentation, critiquing dominant systems that we like, but we want to make them better. It supports public interest in a place, a sense of identity in a place. It certainly supports tourism and it definitely supports industry,” she says.
Dr. Dyer says while the province’s arts scene is very diverse, her and her team’s preliminary investigations show that when it comes to arts support throughout the country, Newfoundland and Labrador ranks near the bottom. She hopes that her study will help change that.
“My hope is that this is going to give some leverage to changing arts policy in the province. There’s a little bit of data out there, but not a whole lot. It’s never really been assessed properly as far as I can tell. There hasn’t been any of these comparative analyses,” she says.
The plan is for the study to be just the beginning of a much larger project that will help form a bigger picture about the arts in the province, its benefits and how to best invest in this sector.
“It’s something that I think has been lost slowly – the understanding of the importance of the arts,” Dr. Dyer says.
“Bringing in social science to understand what’s happening with the arts, of course, is going to give just another way for us to discuss it…and to give reasons for supporting the arts in general.”
Want to learn more? Come by St. John’s City Hall, Foran-Greene Room on Monday, May 2 for a public dialogue (hosted by Business & Arts NL and the Newfoundland Quarterly) about the roles of the arts and culture industries in the province. As part of the session, Dr. Dyer will present on her ongoing research project “Patterns of Art Support in Newfoundland and Labrador.” Click here for more information. *Update: To see a video of Dr. Dyer’s presentation, click here.