Thursday, September 3, 2009

More Flip Flops on the Arts

So it appears that, in the face of massive outrage from the BC arts community, Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman has had an eleventh-hour change of heart on the gaming revenues, restoring $40 million of previously promised money that was then subsequently--and summarily--cut (see the story in today's Vancouver Sun). All well and good, but in the same breath he also announced that the three-year funding model the government had previously adopted regarding the allocation of these revenues will be eliminated, and that they will revert to a year-by-year application process.

However, the even more alarming news is the further erosion of funding to the BC Arts Council, with the 40% rolling cuts announced in February's budget now escalating to more like 80-90% in Finance Minister Colin Hansen's revised budget this past Tuesday. In February it was announced the Council's funding would drop to $9.6 million in 2010-11, before increasing slightly to $9.8 million in 2011-12. Now we're told that those numbers will be $2.25 million in 2010-11 and $2.2 million in 2011-12 (see the article from yesterday's Globe). And this at the same time as $400 million is being set aside in the form of various "relief measures" to offset the phase-in of the controversial HST. Why not scrap the HST altogether, and move that $400 million over to arts? Clearly there seems a plan afoot to gut the BC Arts Council completely and absorb all arts funding decisions and administration within the Ministry, as was recently done with BC Tourism. Kevin Krueger's silence during the past few days is most telling in this regard.

I wasn't going to reply to the boilerplate email Krueger's office sent me in response to my August letter, but now I definitely will, asking for an explanation of these further cuts, and what they mean for the government's long-term funding priorities for the arts.

I know there is division in the community about using the Olympics as a platform to voice dissent about the Liberals' neglect of the arts. While a boycott of the entire Cultural Olympiad is perhaps extreme, I do think something needs to be made of the international spotlight in getting the word out to the rest of Canada and the world about what low esteem this government has for the arts. Pointing to Turin as a model we could have and should have followed re tying long term arts and culture commitments to an event like the Olympics might be a way to go here.

In the meantime, I repeat the exhortation that ended my last post: we all need to reach deeper into our own pockets to help support our favourite institutions. The Fringe opens next week, and is accepting grateful donations with tickets purchased on-line, and will also have donation buckets at all venues. And the main stage space of the Cultch reopens this long weekend with a special two-for-one ticket deal for
Midsummer, a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe. (As a side note, see the interview in The Georgia Straight with Cultch Executive Director Heather Redfern about the amazing changes to the venerable old venue on Venables.)


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