Ruby Slippers, Crumby Funds Local arts group enters the theatre of war on culture

The arts community is under attack. At the beginning of September, the B.C. Government announced its plans to drastically cut the already lean funding it provides to cultural and charity groups within the province. In an attempt to curb the financial deficit heightened by the recent economic crisis, the province began initiating major cuts, which will result in up to a 92% reduction to the core funding for many of these groups by 2012.
Diane Brown, the Artistic Director of Vancouver-based Ruby Slippers Theatre, had what she thought was a legally binding three year agreement with the B.C. Government. It promised $40,000 in funding annually, money that is vital for the operation of the theatre company, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year. This money was provided through Gaming Grants from B.C.’s lottery revenue. Diane was waiting on the 2008/2009 funding when she was informed that it was not coming.
In a response to these cuts, Brown stated the theatre would be forced to cancel most of the 2009/2010 season. Annually providing jobs for sixty members of Vancouver’s creative community, Diane faced the seemingly inevitable future of the company - “We would [have to] cut staff, programming and eventually fold.”
For Capilano University students who hope to find work in the arts after graduation, independent companies like Ruby Slippers Theatre are often the type of organization where they find their first job. These companies offer employment opportunities in acting, musical theatre and technical theatre programs, as well as costume designers, graphic artists, and playwrights. If the B.C. Government continues to reduce its support to arts organization, the arts and entertainment sectors, which have always been known as competitive, will have fewer job opportunities for new graduates.
What the B.C. Government seems to be ignoring is that art is an industry, and has proven throughout the years that it can be a very lucrative one. “Public finding is really a government investment.” Diane notes, “For every dollar that the government invests in arts and culture, they get $1.38 back in direct taxes.”
Diane adds that there are clear reasons besides revenue that should be taken into account as well. “Independent theatre companies offer our community and cultural workers unique and inspiring perspectives on the human condition. Artists historically are the conscience of a society. To silence them is to dehumanize us all.”
Cultural groups also provide something of a support system for those on the fringe. “The arts is often a place where people who feel like outcasts can fit in. At-risk youth frequently find a place in the arts and become more productive and positive members of society.” The Flying Monkey, a newsletter and blog run by Ruby Slippers Theatre, recently published a series of interviews on the importance of mentorship and youth. This reinforces how vital arts organizations are in supporting and training emerging talent.
Surprisingly, A week after the cuts were first announced, the B.C. Government declared that agreements for multi-year Gaming Grant funding would be honoured. Ruby Slippers Theatre's grant for 2008/2009 was reinstated. After being challenged with what seemed to be a worst-case scenario, Ruby Slippers Theatre were able to revisit their plans for their upcoming season, which include two plays and a national tour.
Despite this turnaround, the situation is still dire for B.C. arts. Diane encourages others to speak out about this issue. “Write to your MLA and describe why culture matters to you. Be civil and passionate. Connect with your local arts and culture organizations and offer to volunteer, or make a donation. We are all in this together.”
Ruby Slippers’ Upcoming Season starts December 4th, with a pay-what-you-can performance of A Beautiful View, written and directed by Governor General’s Award-Winner Daniel MacIvor. The show continues from December 5th-19th. Tickets are $20 to $24, with two matinee performances at $15.
For more information about Ruby Slippers Theatre, visit their website at

Sarah Hager

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