Monday, October 29, 2007

Arts and the Election - the NDP

SAA interviewed the NDP, Liberal and Saskatchewan parties about their plans for the arts sector if elected. Following is the interview with the NDP.

« Back

Sandra Morin, New Democratic Party
Current Candidate in Regina Walsh Acres
Former Minister of Culture, Youth & Recreation

As interviewed by Steven Ross Smith, for the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance
October 24, 2007


SAA: What is your party’s sense of the value contributed to life in Saskatchewan by our artists and arts organizations?

Sandra Morin: Our party’s sense – well, let’s put it this way. I’m of German background. There’s a German artist named Martin Kippenberger, and there’s a quote that he said that has always put it in perspective for me: “I’m rather like a travelling salesman. I deal in ideas. I do much more for people than just paint them pictures.” That’s our philosophy really when it comes to the arts. And that’s my philosophy. An artist is much more than someone who makes decorations to hang over the fireplace. Artists force us to think, they force us to feel and quite frankly, they force us to engage in the world around us, to become more global about our environment. If you take it to a deeper level, artists force us to critically examine all the facets of our life, obviously first and foremost right now, politics.

I got to see the work of Salvador Dali at the Dali museum in Spain when I was young – it was amazing to have that move me at such a young age and inspire me to look at art the way I do now in later life. Artists force us to examine politics, media, religion, democracy, all the ideas that tend to be taken for granted by us, so we’re very fortunate that we have these people who have such depth of thought and are willing to share it with us through their art.

We have one of the most diverse art communities in all of Canada and we should not take it for granted. We should embrace it; we should see the value placed in that.

SAA: Does your party have a policy, a vision for the sustainability of arts in Saskatchewan, today, and in the future? If so, please summarize that vision.

Sandra Morin: We believe that the work that artists do is just as important as the work done to develop oil or to build highways, or to produce agricultural products, any of those facets of Saskatchewan economy and life. It’s important to the economy and life of Saskatchewan and because of this we believe that the quality of life is dramatically improved through the arts community and we want to make sure that they continue to be a contributing factor well into the future.

SAA: Does that vision include a plan or model to support artists and arts organizations through public funding for the arts in Saskatchewan? If so, please summarize that vision.

Sandra Morin: There is no question that our support for the arts includes public funding. The arts are something that we’ve seen throughout the world – that in any countries or any provinces that believe strongly in how it can contribute to the quality of life – that is a necessary component to quality of life. In Saskatchewan for instance, just recently the NDP government announced a funding response to the MACSA (the Ministers’ Advisory Committee on the Status of the Artist) in conjunction with the Music Industry Review, and we’ve committed $4.5 million worth of funding that includes ongoing base funding as a response to those two reports. There are a number of facets that are included in that, one of which is a revolving investment fund, through which artists have the ability to access the funds they need, when opportunities become available.

I can’t tell you how excited we were as a government to go through the recommendations of the Music Industry Review to see how strongly they mirrored the recommendations of the MACSA report. So we know from the MACSA report, from the amount of work that had gone into it, that this was a strong vision of the arts community. But to have it mirrored so strongly by the music review and by the music industry was such a solidifying factor. We were very committed then to how we needed to respond to that, in terms of the support that was necessary on behalf of the government.

We also hear that the situation with artists in the province is not simply single-faceted, it is multi-faceted and that means that there are some policy aspects that need to be addressed as well as funding factors and another one of those is procurement policies. We’ve changed our policies around procurement to ensure that it includes the arts in terms of a percentage of expenditures. We’re very pleased with the assistance we’ve been getting from the arts community in terms of advice and how we've been able to respond to that.

SAA: What immediate initiatives is your party proposing, if you’re elected, to ensure and improve the circumstances of the artists and arts organizations in Saskatchewan?

Sandra Morin: If we’re elected, my first priority will be to make sure that the legislation regarding the Status of the Artist has top priority. It is absolutely the next step that must be taken. I was deeply, deeply disappointed on behalf of the arts community that we were not able to accomplish that in the spring session. But that will be our first priority when we are re-elected.

SAA: Many arts organizations are struggling to do more, to meet their visions and mandates, with dollars that have not kept pace with rising costs and inflation. These organizations depend on the work of artists.

Individual artist’s income has been determined by various studies to be, on average, approximately $15000 per year. This amount is below the poverty line. What are your party’s ideas for bettering the socio-economic circumstances particularly for individual artists and thereby for Saskatchewan organizations?

Sandra Morin: In terms of particular artists, there is no question that the funding that we’ve provided out of the $4.5 million is going to be very beneficial to individual artists who want to have more of a business model for the product that they are providing to the public. There’s no question that through this we’ve already begun – and face it, I say begun – because these things are going to have to be monitored on an ongoing basis and there are always going to have to be adaptations and massages to anything that you implement once you see how things evolve and transpire. In some circumstances you’re lucky and hit the nail on the head right away, but in most circumstances it’s something that’s always under review.

Individual artists certainly have a lot to look forward to in the structure that we’ve set up in response to the Music Industry Review and MACSA. I believe that there’s a change in mentality required in the province with respect to how we envision and respect the arts community in Saskatchewan. I’m very distressed that someone will graduate from university with a Bachelor in Fine Arts and someone else will graduate with a Bachelor of Administration and the person who graduates with the Bachelor of Administration will be fairly certain that they can rely on a certain amount of income into their future that will likely grow over the time they are in that career; whereas someone with a BFA has absolutely no hope of a guarantee of income and whether that will grow into the future. So there’s an inequity there in terms of the level of education that someone is achieving. We already know that the most educated group with the lowest income in Saskatchewan is the art community – and not just in Saskatchewan. That is something that should be of grave concern for us in terms of what the artists provide for us, and to the quality of life in this province. That too is an attracting feature to others who want to move to the province – what is offered through the arts community in terms of quality of life.

So those are some of the things that we need to address.

SAA: You’re aware that the Status of the Artists legislation was held up in the last session of the government. You’ve said that your party supports this legislation, and will endeavour to introduce and pass it when the legislature resumes. Do you have a strategy now, given that there may be opposition to this bill?

Sandra Morin: Yes we have a strategy. We have come to realize that we can’t rely on the notion that – the impression that we were under from the Saskatchewan Party – that they are as concerned about the socio-economic status of the artists in Saskatchewan as we were led to believe. There’s no question that we will be working on Status of the Artist legislation, likely with less of a notion of a collaborative situation and more so with the notion that we are going to be carrying the ball on this one.

I served on the Human Services Committee, and I was appointed Minister for Culture, Youth and Recreation because of the knowledge I gained sitting on the committee. There is no naiveté in my mind about what took place, what was said, the commitments that were made. The impression that we were under from the Saskatchewan Party was that they were onside even unto the eleventh hour before the last day of session. I guess I’m more passionate now than I was at the beginning. I felt strongly about this legislation at first because I know of the inequity that exists between the rights of the arts community in Saskatchewan versus the rights of the average worker in Saskatchewan and the difference in the income level despite the high level of education that the arts community in Saskatchewan holds. But I have to tell you that after experiencing all of that, I am more passionate than I could imagine myself to be. It’s something that, as I said, is absolutely top priority for me and top priority for our government.

SAA: Does your party support allowing professional artists access to economic and social programs, benefits and rights: for example workers compensation, collective bargaining, training, pension and social assistance benefits?

Sandra Morin: There is no question that we feel that professional artists should have access to all these aspects. We’ve already been able to address some of those things though other changes to legislation that we’ve introduced. For instance we introduced a workers’ health benefit which some artists will be able to take advantage of. But we feel strongly that we want to see the rights of artists codified in law in the province. There’s no question about it. One of the other issues that we’ve brought up is a platform issue that will affect artists as well – the Universal Drug Plan. There aren’t very many artists who have this, unless say, their spouse has the advantage of having a drug plan as part of their employment. It will be something that we feel will benefit the arts community.

SAA: How can we work cooperatively with your party’s representatives to achieve dialogue and positive outcomes for the arts community in Saskatchewan?

Sandra Morin: I am pleased to say that the arts community has been very willing to give us of their time, of their experiences in the past. When I was a member of the Human Services Committee through the review of the Status of the Artist legislation, I was very fortunate to meet with people in different areas of the province and from all over the province who shared their time with me and their experience with me and their expertise with me. So I can say that the arts community has been very engaged in that and I am very pleased that they are willing to be that tool for us to be able to use so that we can develop the depth of knowledge that we need to improve the socio-economic status of the artist.