04/22/2013 04:39 EDT | Updated 06/20/2013 05:12 EDT

MRU Performing Arts Cuts: What Kind of Alberta Do We Want?

What sort of society do we want to live in? That's the fundamental question Albertans should ask ourselves after the Redford government's cutbacks to post-secondary education resulted in Mount Royal University cutting several diploma programs, one third of nursing spots, an engineering transfer program, disability studies and performing arts programs.

If this is the "progressive" wing of the PC party I'd hate to see the alternative.

I've talked previously about the long term impacts of post secondary cutbacks but there are significant short term impacts as well. And these cuts have a direct bearing on Alberta's quality of life and economic competitiveness.

Although performing arts may seem like a luxury, the benefits are far-reaching. A study by Princeton professor Joshua Guetzkow lists the economic, cultural and social benefits of performing arts. Things like the attractiveness of a city to new residents, the money tourists (and locals) spend attending performances, the fact that arts increases tolerance and understanding between people, increases cultural diversity, reduces crime and even improves individual health.

ATB Economist Todd Hirsch makes a similar argument, noting that for Alberta to remain competitive in the global economy we need to think creatively and adapt to a changing world. He calls investments in arts and culture "infrastructure for the mind".

MRU's programs are far from the only performing arts offerings in Calgary, but it's important to understand what we lose when the MRU music performance and theatre arts programs close down.

  • After this summer we will no longer have Shakespeare in the Park, a popular and successful co-production between MRU and Theatre Calgary
  • We won't graduate people like Michelle Minke, an MRU-trained soprano who's performed around the world and continues to teach at MRU
  • Elementary and Jr. High students will no longer have access to Have Theatre Will Travel, curriculum-based performances that take place in schools throughout southern Alberta

I'm hopeful the pressure Redford is feeling from Mayor Naheed Nenshi and others will have the desired effect but that doesn't change the fact that it was her budget that forced MRU to make this decision in the first place.

Albertans value arts and culture. Does Premier Redford?