B.C. Arts Council grant announcement befuddles community

A joint August 24 news release from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts and the Ministry of Housing and Social Development states that the B.C. Arts Council will be distributing $5.1 million in grants to 338 individual artists and arts and cultural organizations shortly. Details regarding the grants will not be made public until recipients are notified.

The announcement notes that $10.9 million in funding for the 2009/2010 arts council budget came from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development’s community gaming grants program. That money, however, is not linked in any way to the Direct Access grants that are also funded with gaming money and, confirmed a ministry representative, is part of a regular transfer of funds to the Arts Council. It also, according to the Alliance for Arts and Culture, represents a decrease from previous years.

Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance, called the announcement confusing. "I'm trying to read between the lines," he said. "It's the first time I've ever seen a joint release about B.C. arts council funding."

The Direct Access grants have been the subject of ongoing concern among arts and community groups in the province. Following the provincial election in May, they were frozen while the ministry conducted a spending review.

It was only last week, after mounting pressure, that Housing Minister Rich Coleman announced the freeze had come to an end.

Arts and culture groups have yet to receive their gaming grants, however, and many, including the Arts Club Theatre Company, are also waiting on B.C. Arts Council grants.

"We don't know what the actual amount [of the B.C. Arts Council grant] is going to be," said the Arts Club's executive director Howard Jang, noting that the government's three-year budget plan includes significant cuts in funding to the council.