Due to the recent budget cuts to post-secondary education by the provincial leadership of Alberta, Mount Royal University’s Fine Arts programs are now at risk of being cut. With the Classical Music Performance Diploma being phased out in 2012 (for extraneous reasons), we lost one of the most sought after and highly regarded music programs in the province. To make matters even worse, we are now faced with the pending removal of both the Jazz Performance Diploma and the Theatre Diploma, effectively cutting the only programs remaining in the Theatre, Speech, and Music department.
In 2011, during Alison Redford's campaign for Premier of Alberta, one of the pillars of her platform was the Cultural and Artistic enrichment of the province, specifically within its education system. Premier Alison Redford revealed her "vision" for the arts and stressed the importance of the arts in the province. In her words: "What I want culture to be in Alberta is something that every child can understand. We've got to bring arts and culture back into the curriculum in school, so that people understand that it's connected to everything we do in our life. . . we need to celebrate the arts, and we need to celebrate culture; pull the two together, bring it into schools, encourage that in education. . ." Redford appears to believe strongly in this message because she left it on her own official YouTube channel for all to see. This essentially amounts to an election promise; however she has completely contradicted her own words.
Since the economy seems to be of primary concern to the Alberta leadership, they would be sorely mistaken in allowing these cuts to the arts, in our universities, to take place. These programs are hugely important for arts and culture in the province. On a federal level, the arts and culture makes a large and positive economic difference. According to the Hill Strategies Research firm, in 2007 alone the economic impact was estimated to be $85 billion dollars. The arts account for 7.4% of Canada's GDP, and the arts generated 1.1 million jobs (in 2007 this represented 7.1% of the country's total employment). Consumer spending in 2008 on culture alone was $27.4 billion dollars. Additionally, arts and culture has an impact on the tourism industry. A study done between 2006 and 2010 by the Ontario Arts Council found that tourists visiting to experience arts and culture spend twice as much as tourists visiting for other reasons, and stay in a location 42% longer on average. With Ontario being one of the largest investors in arts and culture initiatives, it is plain to see that other provinces have realized the dollar value of the arts in an economy. If these statistics are of any indication, the arts are of paramount economic importance to the province, and allowing the Mount Royal University Fine Arts programs to fall by the wayside would be a disaster, as there are no programs offered elsewhere in the province that would completely replace them (especially the Jazz Performance Diploma program - the only one of its kind in all of Alberta), and there is nothing to fill the cultural void that the loss of these programs will create.
The economy is certainly important, but one must also consider the role that the arts play in the enrichment of the quality of life in society. This importance is supported by the findings of extensive research done on the subject. Hill Strategies has found that in Canada, the attendance of musical events and theatrical performances has a direct correlation with better health, stronger satisfaction of life, and higher volunteer rates.
The Mount Royal University Fine Arts programs are a very important part of the cultural fabric of Calgary and the province of Alberta. Theatres in Calgary often utilize Mount Royal's Theatre Diploma students for lighting, sound, and production apprenticeship opportunities. Without the program, theatres will loose these resources and have a more difficult time finding people to fill their departments in the future if there are no students graduating from programs like this and potentially becoming a part of the theatre community in Calgary. Equally concerning is the fact that if the Jazz Performance Diploma is cut, many aspiring jazz musicians will leave this province in search of a cultural environment richer in opportunities than will be present here. Not only would the music and theatre communities in the “Cultural Capital of Canada (2012)” – Calgary – wane for the lack of musicians and performers coming out of our city’s post-secondary institutions, but the province as a whole would become less attractive as a destination for top artists and musicians to visit.
Alberta is currently experiencing a cultural "growth spurt”, which is revealing its potential to become a major cultural powerhouse. This potential, however, is quickly becoming horrifically undermined by these provincial budget cuts. However, we still have a chance to save the artistic vitality of our post-secondary institutions and of our great province. It is time for our collective voices to be heard, and to rescue the Mount Royal University Fine Arts programs.
Alison Redford - on behalf of the arts community and all students of, and teachers in, post-secondary institutions in Alberta, we urge you to be true to your word and "encourage" the arts in education, rather than stand idly by and allow them to be destroyed.