Former NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball defends B.C. Liberals’ arts record

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The B.C. Liberal Party has been unfairly slagged by the arts community, according to former Vancouver NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball.

Ball spoke to the Straight at the Liberals’ victory party in the Vancouver Convention Centre on May 12.

“A lot of things were said about the Liberals this time that they’d cut the budget for the arts,” she said. “If you do your research, there is no cut. There’s been a gain in the provincial budget for the arts, and it’s [the arts have] done incredibly well over the last eight years.

“The NDP promised the Earth to the artists, but the first thing they did was cut it drastically. It’ll take 30 years for us to recover from that,” she added. “I’d rather have a government that doesn’t make a bunch of huge promises, but actually delivers on the promises they do make.”

As the Straight reported on May 7, the Liberals are planning to cut general arts and culture funding over the next few years. The budget in 2008-09 was $19.5 million; the plan is to drop that to $11.8 million in 2009-10, with further cuts to $9.6 million in 2010-11 and $9.8 million in 2011-12. However, the party also promises to support the arts through a $150-million BC 150 Cultural Fund, plus $50 million toward a new art gallery.

“It’s a very thankless role to be in the position of making decisions,” Ball said. “My advice for arts advocates is to be prepared to negotiate fairly, and be able to say thank you.”

Ball was a volunteer for Margaret MacDiarmid’s successful campaign in Vancouver-Fairview.

When asked if she is a future provincial Liberal candidate herself, Ball said, “Never say never.”

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Ivan Habel
There is absolutely no doubt that Elizabeth Ball’s comments about increased support for the arts from the former Liberal government is both accurate and worthy of profound thanks. However it is spurious to say or imply that the budget did not contain a radical future cut. On an immediate face of things, the previous government supplemented the arts budget to protect current levels of support, but also clearly indicated in spending estimates that on-going allocations to the BCAC were to be reduced. Artists are concerned that those cuts are deeper than any available funds as a result of the Liberal’s newly created (and yes generous) BC150 Endowment.
The cuts are contained in projections of intended spending priorities and those projections are what have the arts community worried. The former (and future?) Minister of culture recognized that the reduced allocations in the last budget were a real concern to the community and was being told and continues to be told that reduced annual allocations to the Arts Council mean real immediate and on-going reductions in activity, sustainability and growth. The arts community in BC continues to be a major economic and social strength to the province. Each government dollar invested results in a substantial net gain return to the province in taxes and services utilized. In hard economic times, to cut investment in an industry that returns profit on the investment seems illogical and unwise. It is that argument that most strongly must be put to a provincial government (irrespective of party).
So let me say thank you to the Government and people of the province for their past wisdom in increasing support to the arts. Thank you too for the capital support, past and future that will support some cultural institutions. Our gratitude however is also accompanied by our need to sustain meaningful government allocation to protect the current cultural and social health that artists supply to the province. I must also say that the past wisdom of increasing support to the cultural sector should be supplemented with the future soundness of recognizing a good investment that will both return the investment and increase the social health and value of the province.
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Amir Ali Alibhai
Very well said Ivan. The Liberals indeed have had a great track record regarding arts funding and the arts community is indeed grateful. We have also asked the NDP about its own, rather poor record. It seems, however, as you point out, that the perception of the arts and culture as discretionary spending (a frill) has been reinforced by the government's budget through the proposed cuts. I've confirmed that these cuts are real and on the books. It is very important that they (the cuts) do not go ahead; it is not just the arts community that will be devastated but families and communities across this province. I look forward for the opportunity to say thank you and to engage in fair negotiation with all governments. Check out www.allianceforarts.com if you want to see our response to the election results.
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