Cultural Economics '88: A Canadian Perspective


Harry Hillman Chartrand ©

Cultural Economics '88: A Canadian Perspective

Harry Hillman Chartrand, William Hendon, Claire McCaughey (eds)

Association for Cultural Economics , University of Akron, 1989



The Fifth International Conference on Cultural Economics was held in Ottawa, Canada September 27th to 30th 1988 with the theme of the United Nations’ World Decade for Cultural Development.  The Decade, which will run from 1988 to 1997, was declared by the United Nations in order to raise consciousness among politicians, economic decision makers and the general public that cultural development is an end-in-and-of-itself and, at the same time, a critical catalyst in fostering economic growth and development.

It is to be hoped that the World Decade will serve to clarify and resolve the Great Value Inversion troubling late 20th century society.  As an economist I know that economic development is a Means towards ultimate Human Ends such as personal, cultural and spiritual fulfillment.  Economic development, however, has now become an end-in-and-of-itself.  For example, to gain public or private support for cultural activities such as the Arts, it is increasingly necessary to demonstrate they contribute to economic growth and development, i.e. the Means now justifies the End.  Put another way, we know more and more how to do things - in a technical sense; but we know less and less about what is worth doing - in a moral sense.

Some 100 academics, public and private sector researchers and consultants presented papers to the Conference.  Papers ranged from the comparative cost of pipe organs in the 17th and 20 centuries to the changing impact of Stalinist dogma on cultural support in Hungary.  This volume presents the Canadian perspective on cultural economics as embodied in papers delivered by more than 30 Canadian researchers.  Two sister volumes present the American and European perspective on cultural economics.

The Conference was important for three inter-related reasons.  First, it was timely.  The recently announced World Decade appeared to re-affirm the ongoing relevance and importance of the efforts of the Association for Cultural Economics since its creation in 1977.  The Conference was also timely in that public debate of the Canada/USA Free Trade Agreement had reached fever pitch.  By September 1988, one issue appeared that could possibly sink the largest free trade agreement in the history of the world.  That issue was Culture.  Many within the Canadian culture community feared the price of enhanced economic integration would be unacceptable reduction in Canadian Cultural Sovereignty, i.e. the ability of Canadians to talk to Canadians about the Canadian experience.  The vigour with which this perspective was


expressed gave clear and compelling notice that Culture has become a fighting matter, at least in political terms.

Second, the Conference served to highlight the distinction between the Economics of Culture, i.e. the study of the allocation of scarce resources within the cultural sector, and Cultural Economics, i.e. the study of the impact of culture on economic behaviour.  This distinction is apparent in the first two papers.  Professor Globerman argues from an Economics of Culture perspective.  He effectively outlines what has been revealed during the last 20 years through application of standard economic tools and techniques to the study of the cultural sector.  Professor Rotstein, on the other hand, argues that the question is not testing current or prospective cultural policy and practice against a cultural artifact called the Marketplace.  Rather, it is about clear and compelling recognition of the intrinsic importance of culture in the life of our nation and the need to adjust economic behaviour to further cultural goals and objectives just as the pursuit of economic objectives is currently being adjusted to account for environmental concerns.

Third, the Conference highlighted an ongoing definitional debate concerning the meaning of Culture.  It is apparent, at least to this observer, that when the word Culture is used by an English-speaking Canadian, one tends to restrict its meaning to the Arts.  Among French-speaking and other Canadians, however, Culture embraces the Arts, Language and Lifeways.  It is in this second sense that Paquet’s paper on multiculturalism and the Ridlers’ paper on language and territoriality expand the traditional scope of cultural economics research.

While not exhaustive, I believe this volume provides a distinct Canadian perspective on cultural economics.  From this perspective, one can see the ongoing national challenge to balance:

(a) the commercial realities of the so-called Cultural Industries with the essentially non-profitable nature of Canadian Cultural Sovereignty;

(b) the hybrid vigour of official Canadian bilingualism and multiculturalism with the inhibiting economic effects of small-scale for cultural expression of linguistic, regional and ethnic communities; and,

(c) the reductionist methods of traditional economics and the other social sciences with the inductive, holistic reality of contemporary Canadian culture.

Finally, on behalf of the Association for Cultural Economics, I thank the patrons and sponsors who made possible the 5th International Conference.  These include: the Canada Council; the Multiculturalism Sector of the Department of the Secretary of State; the Canadian Commission for Unesco; the National Arts Centre and the National Gallery of Canada.


Harry Hillman Chartrand

Research Director, The Canada Council, Ottawa, February 27, 1989