Artists are the original innovators
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Kate Wallace is the executive director of Artslink NB. Photo: Kelly Lawson
What do you think of when you hear the term “artist”? A painter in a small studio? Maybe a sculptor or a photographer? Art is all around us and the term “artist” encompasses a vast number of people.
Kate Wallace, the executive director of ArtsLink NB, describes it beautifully: “We all live with art. The bracelet on my wrist was made by a graduate of the College of Crafts and Design. That mug you drink your coffee out of, if it’s pottery, it was probably made by a New Brunswick potter. As you drive to work the music that’s filling your ears was created by an artist. The Netflix movie you just watched, yes, that is art. Artists are everywhere.”
ArtsLink NB, founded in 2009, helps advance the arts in New Brunswick by linking and unifying artists and arts organizations and promoting their value. They are generating public awareness of arts and culture and also supporting individuals who are creating art.
When you look at arts and culture by the numbers, there are some startling facts.
There are 12,200 New Brunswick workers in the cultural, information and recreation sector. That is more than forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying and oil and gas combined. Kate educated me on the business case for investing in the arts. For example, in the case of the City of Toronto the return on arts investment is huge – for every $1 the city invested, cultural organizations leveraged $17.75.
My conversation with Kate began with me asking her to tell me more about the mandate of ArtsLink NB.
A: ArtsLink NB is a provincial organization for artists of all disciplines – theatre arts, literary, visual, music, multimedia arts and cross-disciplinary. It links and unifies artists and promotes them in a number of ways, through professional development, networking or advocacy to the private sector and to government.
Before our organization was founded, these things weren’t happening in any kind of organized central way.
Q: What has been your biggest learning since becoming the executive director of ArtsLink?
A: I think the most striking thing I’ve realized since becoming executive director is that the artists don’t seem to struggle that much with making their art but they really struggle with the business side of their practices. So I’m not going to say that they’ve got it all figured out all the time, that studio time is tough. They’re often grappling with technical and philosophical challenges.
Artists turn to ArtsLink for help with being a sole proprietor; how to pay the rent, how to buy groceries, how to market themselves, how to manage their finances and how to find new markets.
Q: I understand that what you have learned about an artist’s biggest challenges was echoed in a recent report?
A: The report was called Sustaining New Brunswick’s Arts and Cultural Workforce. It was based on Stats Canada data – a few hundred artists responded to the surveys as part of this research. The two biggest struggles facing artists were with the business side of their practice and the sense that artists weren’t well understood by the public. Their work wasn’t understood and respected.
Q: Do you think the business community values artists’contributions?
A: Artists are often asked to donate their art at corporate fundraisers. I don’t think too many accountants, lawyers or investors are being asked to donate their time to go up on the auction table. It reflects that feeling that artists just do what they do because they love it and it’s kind of a cool hobby. They do love it, but they are professionals. It reflects a lack of understanding. The artists in New Brunswick are extremely well-educated. They have a very developed expertise and it far transcends just making pretty paintings or diversions. It’s not a hobby.
Q: What is the economic impact of the work artists do?
A: David Campbell’s research shows that the arts and culture industry is a significant sector – worth nearly a billion dollars a year to the New Brunswick economy. That’s including indirect and induced effects.
Q: What are some other ways that the arts sector contributes to our economy?
A: It’s the ultimate renewable resource – the ultimate expression of human creativity and ingenuity. We’re talking about innovation, and it’s such a buzzword now, as an economic driver and artists have always been innovators. They’re the original innovators. So the industry is making a serious contribution. The business community should not just want to retain that but they should want to develop it.
Q: If you looked ahead to 2025 and the New Brunswick arts scene, what could it look like?
A: My big vision, and I don’t know if the timing is realistic, would be for New Brunswick to be seen as the most entrepreneurial place for artists in the country.
I’d love our artists who are here to see that possibility to stay here and sell their work around the world. I’d love New Brunswick to be a magnet for artists and cultural workers because they’d be so supported and their value is so well understood.
Q: Who does ArtsLink NB represent?
A: It’s all over the map. We represent any art form. For example, we can represent the stable of writers from Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton as well as Jessica Rhaye or Brent Mason, the musicians and songwriters that you hear on the radio. There are also architects and there are visual artists like Sarah Jones who is running her storefront gallery and studio. Then there’s the Saint John Theatre Company who just bought a building and created this amazing linkage between the amateur community theatre and professional theatre.
We represent all the organizations that support artists like Handworks Gallery and the Peter Buckland Gallery where a potter, like Darren Emenau, can show his work. Another example is The Imperial Theatre where the Saint John Theatre Company puts on shows.
Q: What are ArtsLink’s biggest challenges?
A: Probably it is building a non-profit organization. We want to make sure there aren’t peaks and valleys in our growth. We want it to be a slow, steady climb from here. ArtsLink has to do what we’re trying to teach our members to do through some of our programs – build sustainable success.
Q: Tell me more about the pilot program you have just launched.
A: We were in the midst of our second cohort of the Catapult Arts Accelerator program. It’s an intensive, prestigious program to help artists explore their entrepreneurial spirit. Small groups of artists come in for four months to get business training in areas like market intelligence, financial boot camps, marketing, understanding how to create community around their project and how to identify and acquire customers.
Q: How do people learn more and get involved with ArtsLink?
A: Our newsletter is very informative and tells people about how they can enjoy the arts more. There is tons of news and information about events on our website (artslinknb.com) – it might be surprising for people to find out how much is happening. We have tons of good articles from New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, etc.
Q: Are you optimistic about the future of ArtsLink?
A: I’m feeling very optimistic. Often overwhelmed, but that’s more just a symptom of joining a small organization that has really big ambitions.
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As published in the August 22, 2015 Telegraph-Journal