One day after committing to restoring arts and culture grants to 2008-09 levels during an interview at the Straight’s offices, Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott has gone further and promised to reverse the changes to gaming grant requirements that eliminated support for adult arts and culture organizations.
A news release sent out today from Abbott’s campaign office states unequivocally that Abbott, a former college instructor and the MLA for Shuswap, “would boost the gaming grant portion [for arts] by the remaining $4.5 million in this fiscal year to return it to 2008-09 levels, and ensure that both B.C. Arts Council grants and gaming grants remained at least at this level in future years. He would also restore the eligibility criteria for direct access arts grants that were in place before 2009.”
Yesterday, in conversation with Straight editor Charlie Smith, Abbott stopped short of restoring gaming grants to professional arts organizations, stating that would want to take a “careful look” before doing so, adding: “I do think the adult arts if we can call it that—the symphony and the opera and all of that—are very important elements in the cultural life of our communities as well....I don’t want to promise something we can’t deliver. But it is something that I would certainly want to review with caucus particularly, and perhaps even review more broadly with other members of the legislature.” Abbott also committed yesterday to providing a tax credit to parents to support childhood health and wellness that includes arts and cultural activities, a promise that was reiterated in the news release.
Abbott’s total arts funding promises would mean a return to an annual B.C. Arts Council budget of $19 million (although the figure stated in today’s news release is $16 million), and $18 million in direct access grants to arts organizations. In the 2009-10 budget, the B.C. Arts Council’s budget was reduced to $9 million, but was topped up to $16 million in September.
The renewed commitment from Abbott’s camp garnered a positive reaction from the Alliance for Arts and Culture’s spokesperson Kevin Dale McKeown, who called on all the Liberal leadership candidates to follow suit.
“Certainly we think this is as it should be, and we look to all candidates for the leadership and potentially all parties to make a similar commitment to restore arts funding to earlier levels, and to bring arts funding in British Columbia to at least the national levels, and to articulate a commitment to a sustainable arts funding policy going forward,” he said. “Now that there is a leadership competition under way in the liberal party we will be specifically reaching out to the declared candidates for that leadership.”
Susan Marsden, president of the B.C. Association of Charitable Gaming, which has been campaigning vigorously for a restoration of gaming grants, also welcomed Abbott’s commitments, but questioned whether they went far enough to reverse the gaming grant changes, which also eliminated grants to adult sports, environmental, alumni associations and playground grants.
“This is fantastic news and it’s wonderful to hear somebody speak positively about the arts, and to understand the issues that face the arts community and also its really important role in society.” she said. “But he [Abbott] has not mentioned the other recipients of gaming who have been cut, and has not addressed directly the issue of the gaming grants and the eligibility criteria for the gaming grants, other than as far as the arts are concerned.”
Reached by phone today, Abbott confirmed that he was not yet prepared to commit to restoring gaming grants to all groups affected by the changes to eligibility. “We’re still looking at the question about adult eligibility in other areas,” he said. “It’s important to think about these things before we commit on them, so we’ll be thinking about other potential areas where we may want to move. But for the purposes of our news release today and the commitment I made yesterday, this is about adult arts: the symphony and all of those that get support either through the Arts Council or the direct access gaming.”
In the news release, Abbott also committed to restoring the B.C. Arts Council’s role as an organization responsible for advocacy on behalf of the arts, and said he would examine options in other jurisdictions on how to improve the Council's structure to foster an arm's length relationship with government.
Concerns about the B.C. Arts Council's autonomy were raised by its former chair, Jane Danzo, who resigned in August and publicly questioned the agency's the ability to operate because it was dependent on the province for both budget allocation and ministry employees.