The B.C. Liberal government made a major policy decision regarding arts funding in the recent provincial budget.
However, three ministers involved in this decision didn't go out of their way to let the arts community know about this.
Many cultural workers and arts administrators were perplexed to see a massive reduction in funding in 2010-11 and 2011-12 in the service plan of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts.
When I pressed the minister, Kevin Krueger, on this yesterday, he offered an assurance that the government will continue funding the B.C. Arts Council.
He also noted that money flowed into the council this year from gaming funds.
Krueger then offered a curious comment in response to a question about the $2.5 million in arts funding allocated in his 2010-11 service plan.
He said: "That is the amount we need to fund the arts, heritage, and cultural branches of the ministry."
Krueger did not say that a penny of this money would flow to the B.C. Arts Council to be distributed to cultural organizations. It would only fund the branches themselves.
In the past, the arts and culture appropriation in the service plan included millions of dollars that went to the B.C. Arts Council.
Krueger's comment probably means that the Ministry of Finance won't fund arts groups with money generated through provincial income or corporate taxes.
Many in the arts community have heard of the B.C. government-commissioned study that said for every $1 invested in the arts and cultural sector, between $1.05 and $1.36 flowed back in provincial tax revenue.
Now, it's starting to make sense why the government deleted this 2006 report on the socioeconomic impact of the arts from Krueger's ministry Web site.
Jane Danzo, chair of the B.C. Arts Council more or less indicated that the finance ministry will no longer forward money to her organization. She recently wrote an article on this site saying the B.C. Arts Council will be funded by gaming grants.
The B.C. Liberals tried to hide this from the arts community by playing a shell game with funding. Finance Minister Colin Hansen, Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman, and Krueger all dodged interview requests from the Straight on arts funding after the budget was released on September 1.
When Carole Taylor was finance minister, she allocated $27.8 million for the arts in the 2008-09 budget. The government only spent $19.5 million according to last February's budget.
In February, the new finance minister, Colin Hansen, allocated $11.9 million for arts and culture, which appeared in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts service plan.
Then, the government "found" $7 million, which was actually money that was left unspent from the previous year. The minister at the time, Bill Bennett, said this would top up arts funding.
Yesterday, Krueger made it clear that any appropriation in next year's budget for arts and culture will fund the operations of the ministry—and not the B.C. Arts Council.
It's reasonable to conclude that the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts have gotten out of the business of funding arts and cultural organizations.
Not a penny of the provincial income or corporate taxes you pay next year will support groups that stage theatre, opera, classical music, dance, or other artistic pursuits.
In the future, this will become the responsibility of the province's gamblers. The minister with the greatest power over the arts is Coleman, the Langley-Fort Aldergrove MLA and former RCMP officer who is responsible for the gaming branch as well as housing, employment programs, liquor licensing, and income-assistance programs.
Perhaps the time has come for Premier Gordon Campbell to drop the words "culture and arts" from the Ministry of Tourism.
This will save Krueger the trouble of dodging interviews and trying to offer explanations about a sector of the economy over which he no longer appears to have much authority.