A Rope of Sand: Change in Saskatchewan`s Creative Economy

Did working toward developing an agency like Creative Saskatchewan alleviate the worry and fear in the arts and cultural sector? It didn`t.

Jillian Bell

 Jillian Bell is a writer and editor who lives in the Qu’Appelle Valley. She was part of the working group whose work helped set up Creative Saskatchewan. She is a Co-Executive Director with SaskBooks, the provincial creative industry association for book publishers in Saskatchewan. She has worked on arts and culture juries at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels; she has been a board member of the Saskatchewan Book Awards, her local library board, Radius Communications, and others, and is an active and passionate member of the arts and culture community. She teaches writing workshops and is active in local theatre and music groups, and is an avid creator and producer.

The provincial government threw the arts and creative sector into a state of upheaval when it axed the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit (SFETC) in its 2012 spring budget. That decision blew apart an entire creative industry, and scattered hundreds of workers, who were forced to look for work in the film industry elsewhere. Other creative industries cast nervous glances at one another and hoped they wouldn’t be next. Nearly three years later, we as creators and those of us who work in the creative industries still feel some of that apprehension with Creative Saskatchewan and its relationship to the Saskatchewan Arts Board, but that nervousness is ill-placed.

Prior to 2012, the province’s creative industry associations moved from their existing funding relationship with SaskCulture (via SaskLotteries) to the Saskatchewan Arts Board. There was a plan afoot to develop Saskatchewan’s creative economy, and in truth, SaskCulture’s structure had been an awkward fit for many of the province’s creative industry associations. This move did not come without incentive – following the work of the Saskatchewan Cultural Industry Development Council (SCIDC, now Association of Creative Industries of Saskatchewan) and the work done there with the Status of the Artist and the Saskatchewan Music Industry Review released in 2007, the government committed significant resources to developing the creative industries in the province. The SAB assured industry associations that their funding would remain stable through the transition period. 

Enterprise Saskatchewan and the SAB worked with the industry associations and with creators and creative producers to find a way to move the province’s creative economy toward greater commercial success. Policy analysts and decision makers were starting to acknowledge that the arts and culture sector contribute in a real and quantitative way to the provincial economy. The job, then, was to figure out a way to support the creative industries in their roles as a driving force within the provincial economy. Between 2007 and 2011, several studies were done, consultants were consulted, and industries were surveyed. Many of us in the creative industries thought we were making progress.

Back to 2012. The cancellation of the SFETC stunned creators and creative producers alike. We were angry. We were afraid that more cuts would be coming. By the time the government launched a series of community consultations to propel new strategies forward, some pretty serious damage was done. It’s an understatement to say “there were some trust issues.” If artists/creators and creative producers raised their hands to speak in these consultations, whose hand would get cut off next?

The SCIDC held a pivotal strategic planning session in the spring of 2013 and invited representatives from the Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport to observe. There the SCIDC established a working group to develop an agency which would support the commercial arm of the creative economy. The working group that emerged out of the SCIDC’s planning session included  representatives from the creative industry associations: Saskatchewan Craft Council, SaskGalleries (formerly SaskArt), CARFAC, SaskBooks, SaskMusic, Theatre Saskatchewan, Dance Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Motion Picture Industry Association (SMPIA), and Saskatchewan Interactive Media Association (SIMA), and they came forward with a number of recommendations for whatever agency might emerge.

What was the Saskatchewan solution to the problem of moving the creative industries toward greater commercial success? Other regions have similar agencies, but none of them did quite what the working group wanted Creative Saskatchewan to do. A series of facilitated meetings followed in which the working group made up of, remember, people actively working in the arts and culture sector, hashed out what their industries needed and how this agency might address those needs. Meanwhile, consultants working with the Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport gathered information from regions all over the world to learn how other regions supported the creative industries.

Did working toward developing an agency like Creative Saskatchewan alleviate the worry and fear in the arts and cultural sector? It didn’t. Was the work done around that ‘working group’ table easy and smooth? Of course it wasn’t. But the people around that table whose lives and work are invested in the creative industries – in the creative economy – all had the same goal. I think we all wanted to see an agency that would support production/development and marketing/export development across the creative industry sectors.

There is still concern that the government established Creative Saskatchewan to “take over” the Saskatchewan Arts Board, that the two agencies are in competition with one another, that maybe our province doesn’t want to support artists unless their primary goal is commercial in nature. This simply was not, and is not the case. Neither was Creative Saskatchewan developed as a replacement for SaskFilm – it was developed as an agency to support the production/development of commercial, market-ready creative products, and to support the marketing and export development activities of creative producers.

The fact is that the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Creative Saskatchewan are two very different agencies. The Saskatchewan Arts Board will continue to provide arts education, access to arts and culture, and funding to artists and content creators who are focused on the *creation* of art works in all forms. Creative Saskatchewan contributes to the provincial plan for economic growth by assisting creative producers to be commercially stronger, to be market and export-ready, and to increase their profile nationally and internationally. These agencies are at different ends of the creative economy continuum. The former focuses primarily on creators; the latter on producers.

Creators – these are the artists, the writers, the programmers, the musicians, the scriptwriters and actors – create or perform works of art. The Saskatchewan Arts Board has supported these activities and will continue to do so. When an artist chooses to commercialise their work, she must in some way develop it or produce it for the commercial marketplace. The line between “creation” and “production/development” isn’t always clear, but generally, if a creative product is commercially viable and “market-ready” it has gone through that development stage and is ready for export. Creative Saskatchewan provides support for development/production and marketing/export of those market-ready, commercially viable products. If a creative producer can demonstrate market demand and export potential for their products/productions, that’s where Creative Saskatchewan fits in.

This isn’t to say that the fears and doubts still very present in the arts and culture community are unfounded. Clear messaging, plain and concise language in grant programs, and  timely and effective communication have been sought-after prizes for three years, and still aren’t something in Creative Saskatchewan’s wheelhouse. With only one full year of paid staff (most of whom have experience in one creative industry, but not in the creative industries in general) and operations under their belt, there’s still a huge hill to climb for Creative Saskatchewan to figure out all the ins and outs of being a primary support agency – timeliness of communications and payments is a very real issue. With such a diverse group of creative producers and products, it will continue to be a challenge to provide “one solution” that fits across all creative industries – I don’t think there is one, in fact. The working group did try very hard to ensure there weren’t separate sectoral “silos” of funding; in the ensuing time, film-specific support, music-specific support, and performing arts-specific support emerged, but there is no corresponding industry-specific support for other creative industries.

It has been an exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking ride. But Creative Saskatchewan has done, in just over one full year of activity, some impressive things. It has quadrupled the financial support available for book production, for example. It has showcased Saskatchewan music, art, craft, books, film, and digital media all over the world. Creative Saskatchewan’s grant programs have supported promotional tours for musicians, published authors, and other artists and craftspeople. Its showcase tours have opened the doors for international industry experts to bring their knowledge and expertise to Saskatchewan for professional development. It has supported film production in the province. It has provided the opportunity for creative industry associations to collaborate on projects in new and innovative ways. It has opened potential export markets for cultural producers and has made it possible for cultural producers to make personal connections with international experts.

It’s okay to be nervous, but it helps to think of this as a kind of mitosis. The creative industries have grown and developed and they don’t fit in their old place anymore. The Saskatchewan Arts Board keeps the original set of chromosomes (if we stick with the mitosis simile) – the artists and creators themselves – under their auspice. Creative Saskatchewan takes the second set of chromosomes – the creative producers and their arts/cultural products under *their* auspice. Each has a different focus, and both are integral to the continued success of artists and creative producers.

There’s no coup here. The bottom line is that when you make a distinction between non-commercial creative activity and the commercial and market-ready creative products, it becomes clear that Saskatchewan needs both the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Creative Saskatchewan for a robust, growing, and healthy arts and cultural economy in Saskatchewan. 

For further reading:

The Creative Saskatchewan Act (2013) http://www.creativesask.ca/files/C43-12%20Creative%20Saskatchewan%20Act.pdf

Moving Saskatchewan’s Creative Industries Forward (2012)


Saskatchewan Arts Board Strategic Plan (2011) : http://www.artsboard.sk.ca/files/documents/sab_strategic_plan_2011.pdf

Requirements to Support Commercialization Objectives of Saskatchewan’s Creative Industries (2011)


Government of Saskatchewan. The Arts Professions Act (2009)


Saskatchewan Music Industry Review Final Report: The Path to Cultural Commerce (2007)


Status of the Artist Act (2002)


The Saskatchewan Arts Board Act (1997)