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Cultural sector seeks role in innovation agenda

OCAD symposium raises awareness of importance of cultural industries to economy


The research community supporting one of Canada’s largest and most diverse economic sectors is seeking to enhance its contribution to Canadian innovation and competitiveness by raising its profile with governments and the public.

The art, design and culture sector held a two-day event in Toronto in mid-December to develop a strategy for raising awareness of its largely hidden role of supporting commerce and the economy. Called the Presidents’ Initiative in Cultural Sector Education and Research, the event was hosted by Ontario College of Art & Design.

The summit explored ways to expand the sector’s profile beyond its traditional base in the social sciences and humanities communities. Participants examined the need for funding to build research and commercialization capacity.

In attendance were the universities and degree-granting colleges of design – OCAD, NSCAD University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and Alberta College of Art + Design – as well as representatives from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Conference Board of Canada.

A report (PDF) prepared for the summit by Ron Freedman of the Impact Group laid out the challenge to the sector, saying that it is “often viewed through a not-for-profit lens.” But, the report said, the sector wants to be seen as comprising institutions “that generate economic benefits for Canada. As training grounds for the [art, design and culture] workforce and hotbeds of art, design and culture research and applications, universities are intimately aware of the current economic importance and future potential” of the sector. Most postsecondary institutions offer a range of programs at the undergraduate, graduate and certificate levels in the fields of art, design and culture.

Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University and chair of AUCC, attended the conference and said afterwards, “While there’s an understandable and valuable focus on science and technology these days coming out of government policy and economic initiatives, in fact the cultural industries are a huge and growing component of our economy.”

The economic data compiled on the sector are impressive. According to research from the Conference Board and Statistics Canada, industries that comprise the sector (see list below) accounted for about 3.8 percent of GDP in 2007 – more than agriculture (2.3 percent) or utilities (2.5 percent). Based on current trends, that share is projected to reach five percent by 2020.

“The full impact of the sector – direct, indirect and induced – is estimated at a remarkable $84.6 billion annually. Directly or indirectly, the sector employs 1.1 million Canadians, or about 6.5 percent of the workforce,” states the Impact Group report.

Some of the areas within the art, design and culture sector are among the federal government’s S&T Strategy priority areas.

Dr. Traves said the “go-forward strategy” coming out of the conference was to develop a deeper understanding of the ways cultural industries take part in the economy and to work with both the industry sectors and government partners “to have public policies that recognize and support this development.”

Sara Diamond, president of OCAD, said that arts, design and culture could have as much influence over the national innovation agenda as science currently asserts.

“We need to better integrate small businesses and independent producers with universities and we need to create understanding at the provincial and federal levels by disseminating [the sector’s] contributions to knowledge, technology transfer and the context of knowledge.”

Plans are under way to establish a working group to move the agenda forward to encourage appropriate changes in federal and provincial innovation strategies and programs for art, design and culture, said Professor Diamond. That could entail a wide-ranging review of government innovation strategies and programs to determine where changes can be recommended to boost the potential of research and commercialization of the sector.

The summit urged outreach to organizations such as the Canada Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to develop a research program for exploring the potential of the cultural sector and the requirements for exploiting that potential.

“Our ambitions are huge but mid-term,” said Professor Diamond. “My focus is on the cultural and S&T agendas and talent. We need to keep producing highly qualified personnel to lead this work, which is very cross-sectoral. Cultural industries help to strengthen urban economies. It’s a holistic view so we need to work on bridge building.”


Industries in culture sector

  • Mobile wireless content & applications
  • Mobile broadcasting
  • Digital cinema & television
  • Digital production services
  • Internet content & applications
  • Animation & digital visual effects
  • Entertainment
  • Theatre
  • Fashion
  • Industrial design
  • Architecture
  • Advertising
  • Newspaper & magazine publishing
  • Electronic media
  • Software
  • Medical applications
  • Scientific visualization
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