“It just sort of verifies what we knew. We know we’re one of the largest arts centres in Western Canada.”
– CINDI PATRICK REMPEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR STEINBACH ARTS COUNCIL
If, as they say, art is “the knocking from the soul that gets answered,” rural Canada has opened its doors.
Canada’s small and rural municipalities are home to as many artists as Montreal and Toronto combined, according to a new analysis of where this country’s musicians, visual and performance artists make their home.
Hill Strategies Inc., which does statistical research on Canadian arts activities, finds about one-quarter (36,500) of the estimated 140,000 working artists in 2006 were living in smaller or rural municipalities (populations under 50,000).
In Mani toba, Steinbach ranked as having the highest concentration of working artists of the three Prairie provinces. The report cited 65 working artists, or those employed primarily in the occupation of creating art, in Steinbach in 2006.
The finding pleases, but doesn’t exactly surprise Cindi Patrick Rempel, executive director of the Steinbach Arts Council. Since the inception of the Steinbach Cultural Arts Centre 13 years ago, this area has invested heavily in programming for emerging artists in both visual and performing arts, Patrick Rempel said.
“We’re thrilled to hear this, absolutely,” she said. “It just sort of verifies what we knew. We know
Slightly more than one in three (35 per cent) of this country’s painters and sculptors create their art outside major urban centres. So do almost half (47 per cent) of artisans and craftspersons.
Appealing landscapes, lower cost of living and quality of life in the countryside are cited as key factors encouraging artists to live rurally.
Across Canada, the 10 municipalities found to have the highest concentration of artists, were in British Columbia (the Denman and Hornby islands), Quebec’s Eastern Township of West Bolton, and in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. we’re one of the largest arts centres in Western Canada.”
She attributes the Mennonite culture of southeastern Manitoba for the cultural foundation for arts expression. The churches have long fostered creative expression through music and significant talent has emerged from this region, she said. Now, with an arts centre fostering all types of artists, a rich new vein of creative expression has been tapped.
New visual artists are featured at exhibits offered at the centre every month. “The bottom line is that there are new artists that are now finding opportunities to come out of the woodwork,” she said.
There’s been an economic benefit to arts sector promotion too; job creation. The centre now employs six full-time staff in programming and administrative positions, plus another 33 persons in contract jobs as art instructors. Additionally, there are nearly 200 volunteers associated with the centre.
These are highly valued jobs, notes Patrick Rempel, adding that finding work even remotely related to art can often be next to impossible. “One of our goals at this arts centre was to provide a place where you could actually have a ‘real’ job in the arts,” she said.
Arts facilities or activities don’t have to be extensive to reap important benefits for communities, the Hill report says. It cites other studies which have explored how the presence of arts facilities and activities contribute substantially to quality of life of small and rural communities through local theatre groups and choirs, and facilities such as small galleries and arts centres.
The Creative City Network of Canada, which commissioned a series of reports on revitalizing rural communities through the arts sector, notes “the arts and creative activities can profoundly affect the ability of a town not only to survive over time, but to thrive.”
These facilities and events “create and maintain rural identities, foster a collective sense of belonging, and enable community building and community cohesion,” it notes.
Art sector development may be an untapped vein for community and economic development, according to another report by the Ontario Rural Council, titled Economies in Transition: Leveraging Cultural Assets for Prosperity. It notes that “many rural and small-town communities have a wide range of cultural assets (creative occupations, facilities and spaces, community organizations, cultural heritage, natural heritage, festivals and events, creative industries/ businesses) that could form the foundation for attracting and supporting creative sector businesses and jobs.”
Arts activities flourish where there is overall community recognition of its value, the Hill report notes. This comes through individual champions, leadership in organization, media coverage, regular arts activity, a “critical mass of artists,” funding, and organizational support.
Patrick Rempel said strong civic support for the cultivation of the arts has been fundamental to growth of their arts sector. Both the City of Steinbach and surrounding Hanover municipality contribute substantially financially to the centre, she said.
“They gave us the building and operating funding. That’s huge for us.”
Artists in the Hill report analysis included actors, choreographers, craftspeople, composers, conductors, dancers, directors, musicians, producers, singers, visual artists and writers.
Canadian artists on average earn 37 per cent less than other workers in the labour force, the report notes. Their average income is $22,700 a year.
The Hill report was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Ontario Arts Council. It is found on the Hill Strategies Research website at http://www.hillstrategies.com.