An Update on Arts Funding

As a result of the drastic cuts to the arts and culture sector this year in BC and the proposed cuts of up to 92% for future years, the BC arts community has been up in arms about how to get this essential funding back. Some of the hubbub in the media that was made around this issue in September has died down, but that is by no means an indicator that arts groups have been sitting on their laurels. Efforts have been made to raise awareness both in the public arena and at the ministerial level of government.

For those of you who are new to the issue, here is a little background information. Given its tight economic situation, the BC government has made significant cuts to the provincial budget over the past year to reduce its deficit. Drastic funding cuts were made to the arts and culture sector, a reduction of about 40% in the February 2009 budget plus additional cuts that were announced through the summer. According to the BC Ministry Service Plan 2009 September Update, funding totals for the 2009/2010 fiscal year now total $35.175 million, down from $47.675 million in 2008/2009. However, the largest cuts will come in the next two years when funding will be cut to 6.949 million in 2010/2011 and cut to 3.675 million in 2011/2012, totaling 85% and 92% respectively. To put this in perspective with the rest of the budget, before any cuts were made, funding for arts and culture represented 1/20th of 1% of the entire provincial budget. While the arts community in BC was expecting cuts during difficult economic times, a complete decapitation of the entire sector over a few years was unforeseen and the core reason for such a strong reaction.

Only recently have some organizations come out with statements on how the funding cuts will affect them. According to the Alliance for Arts and Culture, The Helen Pitt Gallery Artist Run Centre was denied a $34,000 grant (50% of their operating budget) that has forced the gallery to close its doors. The Seymour Gallery was also denied their $35,000 grant. Other organizations outside of Vancouver that have recently been denied grants include the Osoyoos Museum and the Vancouver Island Children’s Festival. According to the CBC, cuts have extended to include the publishing sector. The Association of Book Publishers of BC has been denied $45,000, BC BookWorld Newspaper has been denied $31,000, and the BC Association of Magazine Publishers is out $26,000.

Apart from a province-wide letter writing campaign, public rallies, extensive online activity, and media attention, members of BC’s arts community have been meeting with members of parliament to stimulate action towards a reversal of the cuts. Many of these efforts in Vancouver have been spearheaded by the Alliance for Arts and Culture and its Executive Director Amir Ali Alibhai.

In an interview, Mr. Alibhai described his meetings with Kevin Krueger, BC Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and Gaming Minister Rich Coleman: “The response is yes, he wants to work with us. He’s agreed to further meetings and we’re trying to get both Ministers together in the same room to discuss this. But he still maintains that difficult choices have to be made.”

On October 16th, Mr. Alibhai made a presentation to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, who draft reports with recommendations that are used by the government in drafting future budgets. “They were interested in the whole idea of the government in funding the arts,” noted Alibhai when asked what kind of response he received. The main question he received was about access and the social value of the arts. Alibhai drew on his experience as arts programmer for the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre. “We ran free programs for city youth, and after, I was approached by some who told me that they wouldn’t have been able to survive without these programs, and they would never have been able to participate had it not been free. This is where the government can really make the arts accessible. Free festivals are another thing, if they don’t get funding they have to charge.

Of course, there are strong economic advantages to supporting arts funding. The government’s own figures show that each dollar the provincial government invests in arts and culture generates between $1.05 and $1.36 in tax revenues that go directly back to the government. BC has the largest percentage of the province’s population employed in the arts in all of Canada as noted in the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture Service Plan 2009. That’s 80,000 jobs that contribute to generating $5.2 billion in annual revenue. However, Alibhai noted that it’s important to not get bogged down in only reciting the economic arguments for public support for the arts. “No one says they go to an art gallery or the theatre because it’s good for the economy. I don’t go and participate in the arts because it educates me. I go because I want something for my soul. Yes, the other benefits are there and they are important, but that is not the core of the argument.”

Alibhai also noted a similar theme raised by social and cultural activist Arlene Goldbard in her recent talk, “Creative Renewal:  How Art Can Save Us Now”, given at the Vancity Theatre on October 18th. In much of the discourse about arguments for arts funding there seems to be a disproportionate focus on justifying arts funding through economic arguments, which is only part of the picture. “About 30 years ago,” Goldbard noted in her talk, “mainstream U.S. arts advocates committed themselves to a desperation strategy focusing on justifying arts expenditure through weak economic arguments and secondary benefits… these arts advocates gave up on asserting the importance of free expression, the personal and social need for beauty and meaning, the social value of cultivating our intrinsic human desire to create, and focused instead on trying to convince the predator that art is just a really clever strategy for raising test scores and tax revenues.”

The social and educative values of art should not be ignored merely because they are difficult to quantify. Therefore, the extent to which the arts and culture sector is valued in our society is only realized to the extent to which it can be easily accessed by everyone.

//Claudia Pedrero

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: