Art for Government’s Sake


I’ve completed projects for two Calgary clients that underscore the truth that a thing’s value isn’t found in its price tag.

Or, as Oscar Wilde said famously, “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

The cynic in this case is the government, whose financial support of art, art education and public facilities more and more depends on proving adequate returns on investment.

Boosting the Local Economy
In the case of the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (CTCC), this proof is quite easy to find. Working for the design and branding studio Sasges Inc., I wrote a variety of marketing and promotional materials for the CTCC’s 40th anniversary (see “Creating a Campaign With Legs”).  Attracting 300,000 visitors a year with the events it hosts, the Centre brings in $50 million annually to the local economy in direct spending, with an overall economic impact of $105 million.

But to continue to service the growing convention and meeting market, CTCC needs city government money to expand to a new location, with up-to-date facilities that can accommodate the massive events it now has to turn away. Its case is compelling; we’ll have to see if government listens.

The Case for Art
I have also just completed writing 25 profiles of alumni, students and faculty for the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD). The profiles will appear in this fall’s issue of the art college’s magazine, Catalyst, edited by Vera Ilnycky, as well as in various print and online promotional efforts.

The stories are primarily designed to celebrate the talents and accomplishments of ACAD’s graduates and students, as well as the crucial role it plays in incubating some of the country’s finest artists. But a secondary aim is to justify the government investment in art and art education in an era of continued cutbacks.

With communication design, this value is easy to see. As ACAD instructor Dennis Budgen points out: “The impact that designers from ACAD has had on the economy is significant. Our alumni have contributed billions of dollars to it, in a profession that is both environmentally friendly and sustainable.”

Reaching a Critical Mass

Critical Mass

A digital campaign created by Critical Mass for the Nissan GT Academy that won a Bronze Cyberlion.

A case in point is the digital design firm Critical Mass, founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Ted Hellard and ACAD instructor Michael Clairo. They brought with them three ACAD students, including Darren and Jason Delichte. With the  brothers playing executive creative roles, the agency has grown to 10 global offices and more than 800 employees. Over the years it has served as a dynamic hub that not only has hired generations of ACAD design graduates but has nurtured talent and entrepreneurial zeal that have, in turn, spawned many new creative and technological businesses in Calgary.

As if to underscore this role as incubator, Darren Delichte has joined another venture started by Hellard, called AppColony, servicing the exploding mobile phone/tablet sector. For his part, Jason Delichte continues to guide Critical Mass as executive CD, picking up awards and honing the skills of new generations of creative talent.

Art for Society’s Sake
The value proposition becomes trickier to prove when it comes to fine art. Yes, some artists are enormously successful with self-supporting practices. Others must keep day jobs to support their art habit. And yet others take a sideways trip and use their out-of-the-box problem-solving skills in unrelated careers.

One of ACAD’s notable success stories is alumnus and instructor Jeff de Boer, who has established an international reputation for himself with his dynamic public sculptures and detail-perfect suits of armour created for cats and mice.


“Tournament Cat”: A nickel, brass, leather, aluminum, mixed media suit of armour created by Jeff de Boer.

Wading into the value of art argument, he says, “I always imagined what would happen if we could turn off art, just shut off creativity. The reality is, the whole world would descend into darkness. Art is so integrated into our lives, government and people don’t understand what would happen if it disappeared. Their clothing wouldn’t look good. Their food wouldn’t taste good. There would be no colour or life.”

The truth is, art and design are everywhere. Stoked by the fire of ACAD and its graduates, Calgary has developed a vibrant downtown cultural scene that belies the stereotype of the boom-or-bust oil town, good only as a gateway to the mountains or a place to visit during the Stampede. It is helping the city become a compelling destination in its own right.

Of course, government bean counters – at least the ones who have glands – salivate over the prospect of increased tourist dollars.  But they need to be reminded that the value of art is intrinsic, found in the important roles it plays in shaping and expressing our identity as a society, and starting public dialogues. The economic wealth it brings to city coffers is only one of its minor byproducts.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email