Why The Arts Matter

Erin Patterson

Here in this beloved Annapolis Valley, as elsewhere, we are facing many challenges. The climate emergency threatens our coastlines, our food security, and our children’s futures. Our healthcare and education systems, despite the selfless and often thankless efforts of their workers, are overburdened and under-resourced. The inflated housing market has put homeownership out of reach for many Nova Scotians and has put pressure and hardship on renters. The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated societal inequities, caused an increase in physical and mental health issues, and burdened the economy.

In such a context, the arts and culture sector is easily overlooked while attention and investment are directed to more tangible and immediate concerns. I would argue that it is in precisely such difficult circumstances, when we are least willing to pay for the arts, that we have the greatest need of them.

Full disclosure: I’m an NDP candidate in the upcoming provincial election. Further disclosure: my intent here is not to promote or criticize any particular party’s arts and culture platform, including my own. My intent is to make a case for supporting the arts, regardless of political affiliation, in times of plenty and in times of want.

It can be a tough case to make. Pretty much everyone has been sick at some time in their lives and needed a doctor, so they understand the value and importance of funding healthcare. But lots of people have never been to an art gallery or a museum or a live theatre performance, and don’t see why their tax dollars should support such initiatives.

My father was a journalist on the arts beat in southwestern Ontario, and from the many articles he wrote during his career, here is a quotation from one of my very favourites:

“The argument is always made when an arts organization seeks public funding that worthier causes need the money more—the hungry, the homeless. Perhaps it’s true that physical survival is more essential than spiritual refreshment, but just because your heart is more essential than your hand doesn’t mean you blithely cut off your fingers to aid your circulation.”

I believe we need our hands AND our hearts! We must house the homeless AND support the arts! In the arts, we find solace for the soul; hope for the human condition; joy in the sheer beauty and delight of words, movements, sounds, and images; and wonder and inspiration in the talent, dedication, and accomplishment of the artists who make those words, movements, sounds, and images.