The arts can’t be our cheap entertainment forever. We should not get used to this.

May 6, 2020

Every day brings another video of an artist or arts organization entertaining us: whether it’s ballet dancers keeping fit in their kitchens, orchestras performing from their homes or actors reciting Shakespeare. All are amazing, fun and uplifting. We are feasting on this content. In fact, it seems like the perfect combination: a captive audience literally crying out for content and a group of entertainers with an overwhelming desire to well, entertain. Why is this a bad thing you might ask? Well, there is one very important factor to consider in all of this. In their quest to stay relevant and remind us they are still here, these artists and arts organizations are literally giving away the content we would normally pay for. And, this is too much for us to ask or expect. 

Artists and arts organizations play a crucial role in our lives. In Canada, the arts sector accounts for 2.7% of our national GDP ($53.1B). People visit cities solely to see a show, watch a concert, enjoy an evening of culture. And, this is great. In our new reality, however, this just isn’t possible, and we have no way of knowing if and when we’ll be able to do this again. So, again the question must be asked: when we are currently receiving so much amazing content for free, will we want to suddenly start to pay for it? 

Simon Brault, CEO of Canada Council for the Arts, recently spoke at one of our B/A Arts Response Webinars about the digital experience being an important factor in the future of arts. He was careful to stress that this experience would act as an additional platform on which to enjoy the arts, not a replacement for a live performance. This approach allows organizations to broaden and expand their audience, which will be welcome news for those living in more remote areas and it will allow performances to be accessed more easily across provinces, states and countries. Again, wonderful news and if managed properly, an additional source of revenue for our arts establishments and artists. 

While giving content away is generous, it can not be sustained. We need to remember that for our artists and arts organizations, this isn’t a hobby; it’s their livelihood. Now is our time to support the arts by paying them to continue doing what they do best: entertain us. 

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