The success of Canada’s creative future depends on the success of today’s creative students

Image courtesy of the Faculty of Comuncation and Design at Ryerson University

On Sep 14. I had the honour of attending a lunch hosted by The Canadian Club Of Canada’s Toronto chapter on a ticket reserved for student leaders in Toronto. The keynote speaker was Rogers Communications CEO Guy Laurence.

A charming Britt, Laurence called upon the club and his adopted home of Canada, to capitalize on the untapped potential of Canadian content and leverage our under appreciated art and culture sector. He again and again referenced the opportunity we had right now to mint our brand through our unique voice on the world stage, and reap the societal and economic benefits as a result.

It was a similar message that our federal Minister of Heritage Mélanie Joly was selling at a similar high-brow luncheon to The Economic Club of Canada on June 9, it to was echoed in a speech by Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Eleanor McMahon as she unveiled Ontario’s new Cultural Strategy on July 20th at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Our governments and business then it seems understands the value of Canadian content creators. They are all on the same page in seeing the need to invest money and support them in order for our country and economy to flourish.

As a member the student-run Ryerson Communication and Design Society I have the honour of representing over 5000 of those content creators as they study at the Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson University. Only blocks away from The Canadian Club’s glossy luncheon students were pouring their efforts into their work at Canada’s top Image Arts, Journalism, Fashion, Communication, Performance and Design programs, taking the time to learn the skills needed to prop up the future our ministers and business leaders seem to be championing.

However on the tail end of Laurence’s carefully crafted speech he made a comment highlighting a common issue I see with the current leaders of this new movement to revitalize Canada’s culture. About Justin Bieber, Laurence asked the audience to forgive him for “being 22 and still acting like it,” and to appreciate him instead for the value he adds to Canada’s brand.

I like Bieber was born in 1994 and I seem to be living in a very different reality then Laurence and the rest of The Canadian Club, who received Laurene’s comment with snickering while my table of students sat in silence.

Missing from all three talks was my reality, which was and has been one where arts funding is continually slashed at the high school level and credit restrictions are continually passed forcing students to abandon non-essential electives, where tuition fees are continually surging unchecked and impeding access to postsecondary training (particularly for degrees in the fine arts and communications branded risky by our society),

I live in a reality where there is always talk of shrinking equipment, studio space, and printing budgets at university and college levels and if not that then I hear chatter about shuttering entire programs in the culture sector for their lack of economic impact.

My reality is one where graduates of all the schools I represent struggle to navigate an economy that has saddled them with more student debt than any other graduating class has faced in history, one which offers only sparse and diluted contract positions or unpaid internships in the cultural sector as a remedy, and yet at the same time speaks and prides themselves on how important arts and culture is for our nation’s identity and chequebook.

I share Laurence’s optimism that we have a brighter future ahead of us because of Canadian content and Canadian voice. But should this revitalization continue to happen without also addressing the underlying issue of arts education you’ll find when it comes a time to hand down that future to today’s 22 year olds … the same ones who are currently struggling to stay in the cultural sector and retain the skills they need to compete globally, there won’t be many of them left.