NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert questions B.C.'s commitment to capital funding for culture
Vancouver–West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says it's time the province created a substantial capital-infrastructure fund for the arts.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Chandra Herbert claimed that the B.C. Liberals call a $514-million expenditure on B.C. Place an "investment", whereas a $50-million contribution to the Vancouver Art Gallery is viewed as a "subsidy".
"It's not a subsidy when it's for the B.C. Lions, but it's a subsidy when it's for the art gallery," Chandra Herbert said. "That seems to be the province of B.C.'s approach."
Chandra Herbert made the comments in response to Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes's recent revelation that no money is budgeted next year for a new Vancouver Art Gallery.
The city will only turn over the property opposite the Sandman Hotel on West Georgia Street to the art gallery if the province tops up a $50-million grant in 2008 with another $50 million by April 30, 2015.
"We need a capital infrastructure fund for the arts, whether that's the art gallery, other theatre spaces, other museums, what have you," he said. "Most other provinces have a place organizations can apply to for support. Certainly, we've seen in this province a lot of support for sports facilities."
Chandra Herbert added that the federal government has indicated that it won't contribute $100 million to a new Vancouver Art Gallery, which is another of the city's conditions for granting the land.
"I think the art gallery and the city have a real challenge because the federal Conservatives have pretty much said flat-out no," he said.
On October 17, Oakes announced $500,000 in new funding for the B.C. Creative Spaces program.
It has already allocated $1.25 million in one-time grants to 37 different nonprofit organizations to improve infrastructure.
Last year, seven Vancouver organizations received funding under the program: 221A Artist Run Centre Society ($35,000), Carousel Theatre Society ($35,000), Green Thumb Players Society ($37,500), New Forms Media Society ($29,500), Vancouver Creative Space Society ($42,500), the Cultch ($42,500), and Western Front Society ($25,000).
No organizations in any other Lower Mainland municipalities were given any money under the program in 2012–13.
During a news conference at the 221A Artist Run Centre in Chinatown, Oakes described how some of this funding financed the expansion of the Chemainus Valley Museum, construction of a longhouse for cultural celebrations on Haida Gwaii, renovations of the Sunset Theatre in Wells, upgrades to the Arts Station in Fernie, and rehearsal space for Green Thumb Theatre at Vancouver's oldest schoolhouse (the original Sir Guy Carleton elementary school).
"This year, the B.C. Creative Spaces Program will give British Columbia arts and cultural organizations opportunities to upgrade important cultural space in their community," Oakes said. "December 9 is the deadline to apply for B.C. Creative Spaces. And I can't wait to talk about what kind of projects next year happen through this funding."
Aboriginal friendship centres are also eligible for funding under the program, Oakes noted.
The B.C. Liberal government increased funding to the B.C. Arts Council from last year's $16.8 million to $24 million this year. At the news conference, Oakes couldn't say if this means that B.C. remains the lowest funder of arts per capita among all the provinces.
Meanwhile, Chandra Herbert said there needs to be a much larger capital pool available because organizations often need provincial support before they are able to gain access to federal, municipal, and private-sector funding.
When asked if the NDP supports $50 million in new provincial funding for the Vancouver Art Gallery, Chandra Herbert responded that he doesn't think this decision should be made at the whim of a cabinet minister without a process to evaluate other proposals.
"There are good arguments for the art gallery," he acknowledged. "There are good arguments for the Royal B.C. Museum. There are good arguments for many arts institutes and colleges and theatres and dance halls across B.C. Let's get a real process that's fair to every British Columbian that measures: can they raise the money? What is their expected audience or participant use of the facility? Is this going to raise private money? Can you get the most bang out of the buck for arts and investment?"