Arts groups in B.C. are still not breathing easy following the province's sudden about-face regarding multiyear Direct Access gaming grants September 2.
Although Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman has confirmed all multiyear gaming grants will be honoured, questions and confusion remain over current B.C. Arts Council grants, future arts funding, and support for organizations without multiyear gaming grant commitments.
Coleman has been reported stating that another $30 million in grants has been approved, $15 million of which has already been committed, but it is unclear where that money is going. While 540 community organizations—not all necessarily arts groups—will receive their multiyear gaming commitments, those who have survived for years on a year-to-year basis will likely not receive anything from gaming this year or next, according to NDP Culture Critic Spencer Herbert.
"We'll probably hear an announcement or see another letter or something in the next two or three days," Herbert told the Straight. "Maybe some of it will go to a couple of arts and culture groups, but I'm not holding my breath, given what Coleman said again and again in the media: 'This is not for those other groups, this is just for the three-year [commitments].'"
There are hundreds of arts groups throughout the province without multiyear funding commitments. They include the Canadian Music Centre, which has received $20,000 annually for a number of years; musica intima, which was expecting $11,000; the Vancouver Cantata Singers, which were expecting $27,000; and Intrepid Theatre in Victoria, which historically has received at least $20,000 a year, and is in the midst of presenting its 23rd annual Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival. The Alliance for Arts and Culture, which normally receives $35,000 a year from gaming, was also denied its funding.
On August 24, a joint announcement from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts proclaimed that $10.9 million in funding for the 2009/2010 B.C. Arts Council budget would be coming from the gaming grants program. Late last week, some groups were informed that they had been approved for B.C. Arts Council funding, and that the money would flow directly from gaming into gaming accounts. That has some scratching their heads as to how the money is to be spent.
"We don't know if it means our B.C. Arts Council funding is subject to the same restrictions as our gaming money," Heather Redfern, executive director of the Cultch, told the Straight. "Our Direct Access [gaming grant] has restrictions on it as to what it can and cannot be spent on. And normally our B.C. Arts Council operating money is really available for general operations. It doesn't have the same kind of rules attached to it in terms of what we can spend it on”¦.They [gaming grants] also have a very different reporting system than the B.C. Arts Council does."
Howard Jang, executive director of the Arts Club Theatre, echoed Redfern's concerns. "According to the letters that we have, we have to do a report 90 days before our fiscal [year end] to report how we spent the moneys," he said. "That is exactly what gaming always asks you to do, but B.C. Arts Council never does. They don’t have that same reporting requirement. What's also troubling about that statement is that gaming moneys are very restricted as to what you can spend the money on. Do those same restrictions apply because it's a B.C. Arts Council-slash-gaming grant? I've got 15 questions that I just don't have a clue about”¦.I've spoken to the B.C. Arts Council and they are still trying to figure this out themselves."
Also of concern are the government's revised projections for spending on arts and culture. The service plan for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts shows an 81 percent reduction in core arts funding from $19.5 million in 2008-09 to $3.7 million this year. In 2010-11, funding is projected to fall to $2.5 million, and in the following year it is expected to fall again to $2.2 million. How the B.C. Arts Council is to be funded next year is unclear.
"The gaming announcement that they made [regarding funding for the B.C. Arts Council], that $10.9 million, that was a one-time only thing," noted Herbert. "Next year it's not clear at all if there will be money aside from the $3.5 million they've got in their service plan for any arts investment."
According to Herbert, there will be no Direct Access grants available to groups next year. "That's what the Ministry [of Housing and Social Development] has said," he insisted. "They said it to me, they said it to others: there will not be an application process for arts and culture through B.C. gaming."
With no recourse to those grants, Herbert said many small community-based arts groups will be left out in the cold. "Unless they step in and get the Arts Council to change their criteria”¦there'll be no money for approximately 90 percent of arts and culture organizations in B.C., if not more," he warned.
Should the government continue funding B.C. Arts Council grants with gaming money, that raises other questions, said Redfern. "If they do the same thing where they are actually paying for B.C. Arts Council out of gaming money, that has, I think, a lot of us very concerned," she said. "Gaming funds are considered by the government to be discretionary. Funds allotted to the B.C. Arts Council have to go to the arts. And we actually philosophically believe that it's important that the arts are part of the tax base. Gaming grants are not part of the tax base."
B.C. Arts Council chair Jane Danzo sent out a memo to arts groups September 2 that stated, in part: "With resources from gaming, council will operate as usual through the 2009/10 fiscal year with a budget of approximately $11 million. All of council's decisions on grants will be based on the independent peer review process, with the funds paid via the Community Gaming Grants program."
The memo also noted: "Council will strive to identify new ways to support the vital arts and cultural sector," a statement Jang called troubling: "They're saying, 'We're going to try other sources of revenue, other ways to find money for you.'"
The Straight requested clarification regarding B.C. Arts Council funding from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts, as well as the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, and has yet to receive a response. An interview request with Minister Coleman is also pending.
In response to the current funding crises, the Alliance for Arts and Culture held a community meeting at the H.R. McMillan Space Centre auditorium September 2, which was attended by 350 individuals representing 65 arts organizations. The gathering resulted in the creation of an umbrella advocacy committee.
In a news release, the Alliance's executive director Amir Ali Alibhai stated, "Yesterday's announcement that the Ministry of Housing and Social Services [sic] is restoring funding to multi-year gaming grant recipients was welcome news, and a great relief to many arts groups. But it represents only a slight pause in the assault on arts funding across the board, and we must multiply our efforts to reverse what is really an abrogation of a social contract."
Also putting out a rallying cry is COPE City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, who, according to a September 2 news release, will bring forward an emergency motion to council next week that calls on the provincial government to restore cuts to arts and culture in the province.