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Social benefits of arts studied to justify costs

The Canadian Press - Jordan Press, April 29, 2017

OTTAWA — As the federal government looks at new ways of funding social programs, the arts community is looking for new ways to justify why it deserves money.

Officials in the arts sector and Canadian Heritage quietly decided last year that they should measure social impact of investments in culture and the arts, such as the effects on wellbeing, and willingness to pay for a show or service.

They agreed to have a thirdparty conduct a study that would be a first for Canada by putting a more critical eye to claims linking social benefits to cultural activities. The details of the arts project are contained in a project proposal obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The Canadian Council for the Arts says that the direct economic benefits of the arts have been well documented by experts and academics. What is lesser-known are the social effects. The study would “better justify the importance of funding cultural activities and demonstrate outcomes associated with those investments,” the arts council said in a statement.

The government would use the results to shape future funding programs by providing better ways to measure and monitor the results of government cultural spending, a Canadian Heritage spokesman said. The study represents part of a broader push by the federal government into the world of social financing and enterprises, in which private dollars help fund public services with the government playing a supporting financial role. The idea is to reduce costs on public coffers.

Federal funding flows only if the program meets benchmarks such as the number of people employed or improvements in essential skills. The approach shifts the financial risk to investors from taxpayers.

Before the arts study can begin, it needs the go-ahead from Canadian Heritage federal officials, then a final sign-off from Science Minister Kirsty Duncan. However, all those involved say there is no clear timeline about when that will happen.

Canada hopes to improve its international standing in social finance and is crafting a strategy with the help of external experts.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos travelled to Britain this week to see what lessons Canada can take from the U.K. on social financing.

Duclos said that, by most measures, Britain is the world leader on social finance after setting up an alternative-financing agency almost a decade ago.

“We want to have the biggest bang for the buck because of the desire to reinvest resources in Canada,” Duclos said.

 

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