Grey Art’s Rally Protests Funding Cuts to BC Arts & Culture

Don’t Torch the Arts – Culture Matters. Such is the slogan adopted by members of the arts and culture community in Vancouver, who rallied on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery this past Wednesday to raise awareness and protest harsh cuts to the arts and culture sector by the B.C. provincial government. Everyone was asked to dress in grey to symbolize what a world would look like without arts and culture. Protesters formed a silent grey square on the gallery steps while a few prominent figures in Vancouver’s arts community spoke on the importance of resisting the government’s funding cuts.

In an interview before the rally, Brenda Leadlay, Artistic Director of North Vancouver’s Presentation House Theatre, gave some hard facts on the impact these cuts will have: “The B.C. Provincial Government has been investing in the arts sector for many years, and contributed 47.8 million in 2008/09. This is by no means a substantial chunk of resources – arts and culture funding amounts to only 1/20th of 1% of the entire provincial budget. This money goes to everything from festivals, arts education, theatre, music, galleries, museums, and community centres. As of February, the Provincial Government’s budget for the 2009/10 fiscal year included 42.2 million in support to the arts, but in September this funding was cut to 23.1 million, just over 50% of the previously promised funds. But that’s not all. By 2011/12 financial support for arts and culture organizations (including Gaming, BC Arts and Culture Special Endowment) will be reduced to 3.675 million. In a mere two years, the BC Provincial Government will cut over 90% of funding to the province’s entire arts sector.”

When asked what potential effects this could have on the provincial economy, Leadlay was frank: “They’re essentially saying they don’t believe in economic growth. The government’s own statistics say that each dollar invested by the Provincial Government in the arts in BC returns between $1.05 and $1.36 directly to provincial treasuries through tax revenues. The City of Vancouver has also concluded that every dollar spent on arts and culture generates almost twelve dollars in economic activity.”

Amir Ali Alibhai, Executive Director of Alliance for Arts and Culture, when speaking to the crowd, made the point that “BC has the largest percentage of the province’s population employed in the arts in all of Canada. That’s 80,000 jobs that contribute to generating $5.2 billion in annual revenue.” It is a major concern of Leadlay, Alibhai and almost everyone assembled on Wednesday that these funding cuts will result in major job loss and significant drops in potential revenue. The severity of these cuts is immense. For example, the Vancouver Children’s Festival, promised a $95,000 grant earlier this year, is receiving absolutely nothing. Presentation House is also out a $30,000 grant. Since most of the harshest cuts to arts organizations were only announced early this month, most affected groups have not yet gone public on exactly what changes they will be implementing in response to the cuts.

Anyone could scoff and say that the arts should just turn to private funding. That’s much easier said than done. “We already generate funds independently,” noted Leadlay. For many organizations, this happens privately from donations by individuals, companies and through other sources. But the arts as we know them in Vancouver today wouldn’t be the same if everything was privately funded. Most arts organizations in B.C. are not-for-profit organizations, meaning they allocate their resources only to break even each year. Anyone who stayed awake during microeconomics might remember that not-for-profits allow goods and services to be produced below their cost of production, something that a completely private, independent market won’t allow. In other words, the price of tickets at Bard on the Beach or the cost of music or dance classes at a community centre are less than the actual cost of putting them on as a result of funding from both the public and private sector. “We’re not asking for a handout,” said Leadlay, “we just want to create public awareness about an entire sector being completely cut off.”

A common misconception about the arts is that public funding only goes to artists. In an interview about arts funding cuts, Liz Wilton-McMahan, stage manager for A Fighting Change Productions and Box Office Manager at Bard on the Beach put it nicely: “People in the arts aren’t just crazy artists. We are accountants, bookkeepers, marketing managers, designers, receptionists, technicians, the list goes on; and we’re all affected by these cuts.”

The voice of the provincial government in response to the arts community’s outcry has been relatively quiet and representatives are reluctant to comment. In a bizarre attempt to justify cuts to the arts sector, the government has gone so far as arguing that arts funding takes money away from hungry children and poverty reduction. Last week, in response to questions about why arts and culture funding had been cut, B.C. Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman answered: "When you think about a child arriving in school with an empty stomach that isn't going to get the education they require, you have to decide, 'Is that a priority, or some other thing?' You make the decision on behalf of the child."

In an interview with the Globe and Mail on the topic, Minister Coleman stated: “It's not like there's some guaranteed pool that has to go out to everybody every year for some level of entitlement … Sometimes you have to adjust your priorities, and that's what we did.” “At the same time, when you are trying to make that decision and you know the importance of nutrition, you say: This is one year where I think we have to suck it up.”

Kevin Krueger, BC’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts proved equally evasive and cited the same argument as Coleman when in the house by members of the NDP. “This government places a tremendously high value on the contributions of the arts and cultural community to the social fabric of British Columbia as well as to our economy. It is a remarkable achievement that we have been able to fund, through the BC Arts Council, grants to these communities in almost the same amount, at almost the same levels as last year.” When questioned about the Bulkley Valley Fall Fair in Smithers, which was denied their gaming grant of $20,000 in the middle of their run, Krueger answered “Would any member on the opposite side of the House argue that a program to fund nutritional and similar programs in schools for underprivileged children is a lower priority than fall fairs? Not everyone can be funded, and tough decisions have to be made.”
Apart from the strong economic evidence to support investment in the arts, the social benefits that a vibrant arts and culture sector bring to our community is enormous. I could write another entire article describing the ways that the arts and culture affect our daily lives, in everything from education to TV to music, if I had the room in this column. But the economic arguments speak for themselves. Most people understand when governments need to tighten their belts during difficult economic situations, but cutting off entire sectors is unprecedented.

Mo Dhaliwal, founder of the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration and another speaker at Wednesday’s rally summed it up nicely: “The arts and culture is like the input of electricity. No one notices it when it’s there, but when it’s gone we can’t function the same way.”
If you would like more information about the growing opposition to funding cuts to the arts sector, visit the Alliance for Arts and Culture website at or check out the Facebook group Organizing Against Campbell’s Cuts to the Arts. Also, the entire transcript of the debate cited above between Kevin Kreuger and members of the NDP can be found at

Claudia Pedrero

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


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