Through the creative work they do, it’s often been said, society owes a debt to artists. In turn, it now seems that society is going to offer artists an opportunity to owe a debt to it. Today, we received word from the Saskatchewan Arts Board that, in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture & Sport, it was launching the Creative Industries Flexible Loan Program.

More information, including loan applications, can be found on the SAB’s website at under the Creative Industries tab. According to the SAB press release, $1.15 million is being allocated to the program, which is designed to enhance the entrepreneurial and economic capacity of artists and arts organizations by providing them with short-term, low-interest loans of up to $25,000.

Overall, this is pretty consistent with the direction the Saskatchewan government has taken since the 2007 election in focussing on the development of marketing opportunities for artists. That is definitely one way to enhance the financial well-being of the arts sector. But its also true that for years now, public investment in the arts has been stagnant. From the early 90s on, while the number of artists and arts organizations in Saskatchewan mushroomed, and more and more attention was paid to the idea of creativity as an important economic driver in the province, the amount of money that was allocated to the Arts Board to fund the arts remained flat with the consequent result that the “pie” was relentlessly cut into smaller and smaller pieces.

Is a loan program the answer? For a segment of the arts community that already operates in a quasi-business mode, it should help. I’m thinking of craft producers, organizations that are involved in the production of popular theatre and music events, perhaps some commercial cinema. But market viability, which is implicitly required to pay off a loan (with interest), creates a pretty slippery slope that ultimately could dead-end a lot truly innovative and creative work that’s being done by artists and arts organizations in the province that doesn’t find a ready market.