The stop in St. John’s just wasn’t long enough! A short stay at the wonderfully renovated award winning Murray Premises (fish factory on the harbour turned boutique hotel), a walk along Water Street past the galleries and crafts stores (and clothing stores with winter sales!), a big climb up the many sets of stairs to Duckworth Street and then to the LSPU Hall – that very special, very Newfoundland Resource Centre for the Arts – to the warm welcome of Reg Winsor (ED of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council – our co-host) and our Newfoundland members: what a way to start your day!
It didn’t take long though to move into conversation about the challenges the cultural sector is facing in Newfoundland. Richard and I spoke first about CHRC’s strengths and optimism in our transition to life-without Sector Council Program (and core funding).
Then we broadened the discussion to consider directions CHRC should/could go in, and the discussion became lively. The purportedly hefty oil revenues that are supposed to be filling the provincial coffers are not making their way to the cultural sector. Just keeping the doors of theatres, festivals, dance companies and music organisations open is a day to day challenge. That means the nurturing of any sense of continuity and stability, much less HR management that takes succession into account, is not on people’s radar.
A priority off the top was support for the development of exporting and export marketing skills where “there is a void”. It is essential for Newfoundland’s artists and cultural workers to reach international markets. Even convincing bureaucrats of the need to return to international events more than once to fertilize national and international marketing opportunities is a tough sell. With the demise of Trade Routes and support for exporting of cultural goods and services at DFAIT, CHRC has noted the need for leadership and collaboration among a variety of partners to rebuild Canada’s strength in this area.
Another area where CHRC might offer support is Board development. Connected, active, hands-on Boards of arts and cultural organisations are vital – particularly when the ability to maintain staff with experience and “corporate memory” is so difficult. Board tools are needed that go beyond reciting “fiduciary responsibilities” to actually showing how to fundraise and apply skills and expertise in the process of governance. We will continue to tap this theme as we visit other provinces and see where it places on our list of priorities.
We were also pleased to hear support for our planned efforts to respond more specifically to the needs of First Nations artists and cultural workers. This struck a chord. It was inspiring to hear about New World Theatre’s production of The Tempest with an aboriginal cast, in Cupids! And plans among the Atlantic Public Arts Funders to shine a light on First Nations artists in an aboriginal arts festival. We will look for ways to collaborate with this spirit and these efforts.
While we shared the challenges, as always in Newfoundland, the spirit is strong, and we ended the meeting on an optimistic note: news of an initiative among Newfoundland business people to step into the fray and provide support for cultural activity in the province.
We look forward to hearing more of that!