Creativity, Culture and Community: Advancing the ‘Status of the Artist Act’ in Nova Scotia

Creativity, Culture and Community: Advancing the ‘Status of the Artist Act’ in Nova Scotia

Ceaseless lobbying on the behalf of Canadian artists frustrated by their ambiguous position in relation to other labourers subsequently culminated in the Federal Government of Canada proclaiming the Status of the Artist Act.

The Status of the Artist Act establishes a labor relations regime grounded upon the recognition of an artist as a professional for the purposes of collective bargaining and taxation.  Various provincial governments including Quebec and Ontario have enacted legislation reasonably aligned to that of its Federal counterpart. More recently, Nova Scotia tabled its version of the Status of the Artist Act, which seemingly embodies its unwavering commitment to cultivating vibrant communities, and its recognition of the substantial contribution of artists in attaining such an undertaking.

The legislation, introduced on March 30th 2012, by Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister David Wilson, is a manifestation of the province’s five-point plan for arts and culture announced in February 2011. The action plan calls for the introduction and development of the Status of the Artist Legislation; the establishment of Arts Nova Scotia, an independent body responsible for delineating funds to individual artists; the creation of the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council to maintain dialogue with the government and pioneer a strategy for Nova Scotia’s culture sector; the development of a communications outreach plan that enables artists to publicize and market their works; and an interdepartmental committee to organize and coordinate governmental efforts that uphold its commitment to arts and culture development.

Primarily, the legislation will: enable artists’ associations to prescribe levels of compensation for works created and services rendered by artists; promote the fair treatment of artists by the government and articulate the roles and responsibilities of the government to artists; ensure that Nova Scotians have access to artistic training and education; acknowledge the working conditions of artists; maintain the government’s dedication to the rights of artists, including safe working environments and freedom of expression and association; and ensure that the necessary tools  to support Nova Scotian artists and their unique needs are secured by the government.

Currently, the legislation, in conjunction with a host of other action plans has garnered emphatic support from the arts community. Numerous contend that finally, legislation recognizes the importance of artists and their role in the enrichment of the social and cultural fabric in Nova Scotia. More specifically, Pam Birdsall, a member of the legislative assembly for Luneberg and an artist, rose in the house to speak on the legislation and stated that the Bill is an important piece of the professional arts sector that will enable the creative economy to flourish.  She went on to relay a quote by Ron Bourgeois, the Chairman of the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council, who asserted that the legislation defines “where I fit in the Nova Scotia fabric. Where yesterday there was nothing, today I feel I am recognized, respected as artist within this government.” Notwithstanding such strides in the evolution policy affecting the status of artists, recognition in the absence of tangible measures will be insufficient in advancing the position of artists in Nova Scotia.

Perhaps Nova Scotia can derive inspiration from foreign measures and regimes that address the socioeconomic status of artists.  For instance, in Ireland, artists are exempt from paying income tax, while provisions in the Australian Sales Tax Law alleviate creative artists from paying tax on equipment and materials.  In France and Belgium, self-employed artists have dual status for taxation and social benefit purposes.  In the Nordic countries, performing artists are able to garner access to unemployment insurance schemes.  In the Netherlands, the government administers the social assistance program for artists, with funds acquired from matching government money and fees collected from artist unions.  Funds are utilized to provide a weekly minimum wage, holiday allowance, various occupational expenses and health insurance contribution to artists.

The Status of the Artist Act should be approached critically, and with caution. Efforts to effectively ameliorate the status of artists should be deployed swiftly and with genuine concern. As previously stated, recognition and acknowledgement in the absence of tangible solutions will prove futile in remedying issues that face artists. Perhaps a compelling approach is one that addresses the intersectionality and multiplicity of matters affecting artists, and cohesively integrates policy pertaining to economics, social welfare, human rights, education and labour law. Such an approach will ensure the  “sustainable human development for artists”, a phrase coined by Danielle Cliche.

Tracy Ayodele is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.