Paradigm Shift in the Arts and Cultural Heritage: from Supply to Demand and the Demand to Supply
David A. Walden, Secretary-General, Canadian Commission for UNESCO
Keynote address given at Heritage Conservation 20/20: Hindsight and Foresight at the Round Table in Montreal organized by the Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage, School of Architecture, Université de Montréal, March 14-16, 2012.
The establishment of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (1949-1951), popularly known as the Massey Commission, was the result of a combination of unique forces and factors that have not been seen since. The Second World War (1939-1945) had moved Canada into closer military and economic integration with the United States of America, and the post-war years saw heightened fears of continentalism and loss of a distinct Canadian identity. In its Report, the Massey Commission warned that Canada faced "influences from across the border as pervasive as they are friendly." In education, book publishing, magazine publishing, filmmaking and radio, the Report surveyed American influences on Canadian life and warned of "the very present danger of permanent dependence."
The solution proposed by the Commission was the creation of largely nationalist institutions such as the National Library of Canada and the Canada Council. It also recommended measures to strengthen the conservation of Canada’s historic places. In doing so, the Massey Commission created conditions for a supply side approach to Canadian arts and heritage that would persist for almost 50 years.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Classic economic theory postulates that the "law" of supply and demand is based on four principles:
- As the supply of a commodity goes up, the price tends to go down.
- As supply goes down, price tends to go up.
- When price goes up, producers are motivated to provide a greater quantity of a given commodity, but purchasers will buy less of it.
- When price goes down, consumers are motivated to buy more of it, but producers tend to provide less.
Through these four principles, equilibrium is established and maintained between supply and demand.
CANADIAN CULTURAL POLICY – A SELECT HISTORY
The Report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences expressed the hope that "there will be a widening opportunity for the Canadian public to enjoy works of genuine merit in all fields, but this must be a matter of their own free choice. We believe, however, that the appetite grows by eating. The best must be made available to those who wish it." At the same time, the Commission had received briefs making it clear that no-one could pursue artistic endeavours on a fulltime basis – not as a writer, a composer, a playwright, actor or producer, nor as a painter or sculptor – and expect to make a living by doing so.
What followed was almost four decades of legislation, government regulations and tariffs to create conditions that encouraged artistic creation, guaranteed its presentation to the public, and protected it from external forces. The first legislative action was the creation of the Canada Council whose mandate was to oversee distribution of grants and services for Canadian artists and "to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and production of works in, the arts" (Canada Council Act). As early as 1957, then, Canadian legislation placed equal weight on artists and the audience, or the supply and the demand. The Canada Council Act was followed one year later by the Broadcasting Act, which established the Board of Broadcast Governors whose mandate included promoting greater use of Canadian talent. The Board established the first Canadian content quota by requiring that 45% of programming on television must be "Canadian in nature" (Broadcasting Act, 1958).
In 1961 the Royal Commission on Publications noted that 80% of Canada’s magazine industry was foreign-controlled and recommended that tariffs be imposed on split-run magazines (foreign-owned magazines that print a second edition in Canada to benefit from Canadian advertising revenues). In 1968 the Broadcasting Act was amended and Canadian-content quotas were increased: 60% of television content now had to be Canadian and the requirement was introduced that the private Canadian broadcasting system be Canadian-owned (Broadcasting Act, 1968).
The first of what came to be called "Cancon" – Canadian-content - regulations appeared in 1971 when Pierre Juneau, the first Chair of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) introduced a system of rules to quantify the requirements of the Broadcasting Act by creating a point system based on the number of Canadians involved in the production of a song, album, film, or TV program. A decade later, the Government of Canada received the Report of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee (1982), better known by the surnames of its two lead commissioners – Louis Applebaum and Jacques Hébert. The Report was the first comprehensive review of Canadian cultural institutions and federal cultural policy since the Massey Commission some 30 years earlier. It is significant for many reasons, not least because it staunchly defended the arm’s-length principle of political autonomy for the Canada Council at a time when attempts were being made to impose more direct lines of political and fiscal accountability on all parts of government. And, whereas the Massey Commission portrayed commercial culture and mass media as a threat, the Applebaum-Hébert Report adopted a more pragmatic approach to cultural industries. It also urged that more attention be paid to youth and advanced training, another indicator of early recognition of the importance of the demand side.
The decade between 1986 and 1996 witnessed three more important initiatives to protect and promote Canadian content. The Task Force on the Status of the Artist, 1986, (also known as the Siren-Gélinas Report) proposed changes to the Income Tax Act that would provide greater financial security for artists, changes to the Copyright Act, and special rights to promote the artistic freedom of artists (Dewing, 2010). In 1988, the government ratified the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement whereby, through the "cultural carve-out," Canada retained the right to exempt cultural products (cultural industries) from the Agreement using the argument that "culture is not a product like the others." In return, the USA was permitted to use "measures of equal effect" against other trade sectors if they were harmed by Canadian actions to protect cultural industries (Lemieux and Jackson, 1999).
Finally, the Mandate Review Committee of the CBC, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, chaired by former CRTC Chair Pierre Juneau, issued a report entitled "Making Our Voices Heard" (1996) which concluded that much of Canadian cultural production would be impossible without government assistance, and that the influence of American cultural production in Canada continued to grow despite 40 years of government intervention.
WE BUILT IT, BUT DID THEY COME?
It is clear that federal policy sought to develop an environment where distinctly Canadian cultural products could both be created (supply) and be consumed (demand). Critics of these policies, however, have maintained that the premise of Canadian content regulations was not for Canadian production but against foreign influence. Similarly, it is argued that the increase in Canadian supply was not a response to consumer demand, but an artificial creation of content regulators. Taking this argument to its (il)logical conclusion, Canadians were forced to consume inferior Canadian cultural products that were not commercially viable or competitive. Critics also argue that in an era of cultural diversity and globalization, Canadian content laws and regulations are counter-productive because the large percentage of air time required to be devoted to Canadian content reduces the amount of time available for exposure to what is happening culturally elsewhere in the world (Stanbury,1998).
THE SHIFT TO THE DEMAND SIDE
"If there’s no audience there just ain’t no show." Chilliwack, Raino, 1970
The importance of the demand side had been recognized internationally at about the same time that the need to develop the supply side was recognized in Canada. In adopting the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1945, the founding Member States included the following in the preamble:
"… the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty are indispensible to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all nations must fulfill in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern."
It is noteworthy that the founders of UNESCO, when creating an intergovernmental organization dedicated to education, science and culture, believed that the Organization had to exceed solely political and economic arrangements between nations and saw the wide diffusion of culture as a "sacred duty." This "duty" included appreciation, knowledge of, and access to the arts (Constitution of UNESCO).
In 1948, this sentiment was reiterated in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it states "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts…." To be able to participate (demand), however, it is implicit that both access and adequate supply are available.
This sentiment was reinforced and expanded at UNESCO’s World Conference on Cultural Policies (Mexico, 1982), which saw the adoption of a broad, operational definition of culture, one that embraced not only the arts, but also "modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs" and "the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group" (UNESCO 1982).
ATTENDANCE v. PARTICIPATION
Attendance at arts events has often been used as a metric of demand, following Chilliwack’s maxim, "if there’s no audience, there’s no show." It is important to distinguish, however, between attendance and participation in arts events.
In a 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts commissioned by America’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), it was noted that attendance (demand) at arts events had declined by 5% since 2002, while at the same time the number of not-for-profit performing arts organizations (supply) had increased by 23%. This led NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman to comment on the "oversupply" of performing arts and to venture that if demand cannot be increased, then supply should be reduced. This led to a fire-storm in the American arts community and interpretation of his comments as meaning that funding for arts organizations should be reduced (Pogrebin, 2011).
The counter argument most widely heard was that reduced supply would lead to fewer choices for audiences, and that this is turn would result in further decreases in attendance or reduced demand (Andersen, 2011). If this is true, the classic theory of supply and demand may not apply to audience attendance rates and performing arts organizations.
Perhaps a better argument is that attendance may not be the best indicator of demand and - in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – it is more appropriate to measure participation rates. In the study Canadians’ Arts, Culture and Heritage Activities in 2010 it was reported that the percentage of Canadians aged 15 or older who participated in most of the 18 activities measured in the report – including visiting historic sites and attending cultural performances – reached record levels in 2010. In fact, the study found that 99.7% or 28 million Canadians participated in at least one of the listed events (Hill Strategies Research 2012). What is significant, however, is that to participate in six of the top seven rated activities it is not necessary to leave your home.
This suggests that many cultural activities, unlike historic sites, are not fixed in time and space. Artistic performances instead can readily react and adapt to market pressures, consumer preferences, technological advances, demographic change, and culturally diverse populations and audiences. Attendance at live performances of traditional art forms can also benefit from the increased interest and "related demand" generated by contemporary variations on classic productions (Artinfo, 2011).
Two examples will illustrate this. During the mid-1990s the Irish step dance production Riverdance gained huge popularity in North America. It attracted audiences that had seldom or never attended a dance performance before and, in the process, helped to both "educate" people about dance as an art form and to make them want to experience other forms of dance. More recently, popular television shows such as Dancing with the Stars, with their dubiously talented dancing Stars who compete for the right to stay on the show each week, have served to introduce vast audiences to dance. The show has also mixed politics with dance as political daughter Bristol Palin survived until the final show by garnering large numbers of ’phone-in votes despite limited talent and generally low rankings from the judges. The charges of fraud, favoritism and ballot stuffing as the Tea Party voted for the daughter of Sarah Palin, not Bristol’s dance ability, only further increased the number of viewers and publicity for the show. (Perhaps in response to public pressure, she came third of three contestants in the final show.) The popularity of Dancing with the Stars has also spawned the popular TV dance competition franchise So You Think You Can Dance with real aspiring dancers, and has again increased interest in dance as an art form (Ontario Arts Engagement Study, 2011).
Equally, theatre has benefitted from related demand and has shown the flexibility of this art form. Shakespeare’s Macbeth – the tale of a man who commits regicide to become king and then engages in further murders, cruelty, tyranny, treachery, and violence to maintain his power - has been interpreted in many ways and in different media. In 1971, Roman Polanski made a film version that attracted audiences that might not have been inclined to see – or pay the price for – the theatre version. It then became available to a secondary market through video, DVD, and computer download. And again, a political twist was added that impacted demand: many viewers have been disturbed by the lurid manner in which Polanski depicts the bloody slaughter of Macduff's wife and children in the film. Some have gone so far as to suggest that Polanski’s interpretation of the scene was a deliberate evocation of the Manson murders in which his wife Sharon Tate was victim. And, on a lighter note, the 2012 Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival season includes the play McHomer described as "One of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies meets one of TV’s most popular families in this brilliant comic tour-de-force. It’s Macbeth as enacted by more than fifty characters from the animated hit series The Simpsons – each one brought to life in an astonishing solo feat of vocal mimicry"
(Stratford Program, 2012).
Despite this flexibility, ongoing demand for the arts, and for live performances especially, cannot be taken for granted: it must be stimulated, nurtured and supported by cultural policies. These policies, to be successful, should stimulate reflection, ensure diversity, and result in personal enrichment. Said differently, when increasing supply the number and quality of aesthetic experiences must also be increased, instead of simply maximizing the number and quality of works of art (Zakaras and Lowell, 2008). Access to supply is also the key to encouraging demand, and it has been argued that access is a public right as many cultural experiences are made possible through substantial amounts of public funding (Strom-Erichson, 2011).
To cultivate demand, and to ensure that individual audience members have the capacity to fully experience the work, an interested, educated and engaged public is required. The best way to achieve this is through arts education and learning as this has been consistently demonstrated to be the "strongest predictor" of lifelong participation in the arts. Various studies have documented that as many as 70% of adults who experienced arts education in formal, curriculum-based education, or through informal or non-formal learning, have attended a benchmark event.
In Canada, an aging population can also create challenges for demand. According to Statistics Canada, in 2006 17% of Canada’s population consisted of young people under 15 years of age, 69% of persons were aged 15 – 64 years, and 13% of people were aged 65 or over. The most recent population figures show that in 2010 the proportion of elderly people exceeds the proportion of children for the first time in Canadian history. Owing to an aging population and as the first baby-boomers reached age 65, the proportion of elderly people could be double that of children by 2050 (Canadian Demographics). The full implications of this are not yet known, but there can be little doubt that this will affect both supply and demand and that there will likely be an increasing trend toward demand for more traditional, albeit culturally diverse, types of performances.
The nature of access and participation will also be subject to change. As was demonstrated in the Canadian arts participation study, many of the most popular activities can be experienced at home and no longer need to occur in "real time" as time-shifting and virtual experiences become increasingly the norm.
Increased immigration and the resultant culturally diverse population also bring different and varied values and cultural traditions into communities. The result is that there is an increased demand for different types of cultural experiences, and the supply must adapt to meet this. Arts support programs at all levels of government have been slow to respond to this factor, however, as the focus of policy and legislation has been on promoting Canadian content.
Education and audience development also traditionally played a role in creating demand through the education system and less formal means of learning. This situation, however, is changing. Well-educated "arts consumers" were once a product of the education system. This relationship is now questionable. Cuts to arts education budgets or the complete elimination of the arts as enrichment programs in the public school system pose long-term challenges to participation and attendance in the arts. The irony of this in the larger context of the considerable public funding expended for both education and the arts is that education for children is compulsory, yet arts education is not. One public policy, it seems, contradicts the other.
While the dominant paradigm in the arts, culture, and heritage in the 20th century was one of increasing supply, it is clear that the paradigm is now shifting to include increased emphasis on stimulating demand. If we accept classic economic theory as it applies to goods and commodities, this relationship should be in constant flux driven by market forces.
Cultural heritage, on the one hand, is inherited from the past. While its interpretation may change, it is difficult to increase supply. In the arts, on the other hand, the supply side is limited only by the human imagination and includes a qualitative element that belies the classic formula. The ability to create an endless, diverse supply does not, however, guarantee an equivalent demand-side response. Ongoing work is required to develop audiences and to engage new publics. Just as the supply side requires the proper environment to grow and thrive, the demand side must also be stimulated and nurtured. The paradigm shift in the arts from supply to demand, therefore, cannot ignore the ongoing demand for supply.
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