A community briefing letter from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, which froze Direct Access gaming grants in May, suggests the ministry will not be paying out money to groups who have three-year grant commitments, and is drastically slashing funding to arts and culture groups.
The community briefing from Housing Minister Rich Coleman was sent out August 27. It stated, in part: “Three-year grants will not be offered this year, and organizations with existing second- or third-year grants will have to reapply for funding.”
The notice also stated: “Examples of sectors that will not receive additional funding this year include...a number of arts and culture organizations.”
A ministry spokesperson told the Straight that groups counting on receiving the second or third installment of their funding this year will have to wait until the next round of arts funding and reapply for the grants.
However, according to Pierre Rivard, executive director of Le Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver, a ministry representative informed him today that decisions regarding this year's multi-year funding will come in letter form in the next couple of weeks, and that only next year's grants will require a new application.
The news comes on the heels of a joint August 24 announcement by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts and the Ministry of Housing and Social Development that $5.1 million in grant awards will be distributed by the B.C. Arts Council to 338 individual artists and organizations in the coming weeks. The announcement also noted 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. Earlier, on the same day, an announcement from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development listed a number of priorities for gaming grants, including “a limited number of arts and culture activities.”
NDP Culture Critic Spencer Herbert accused the B.C. Liberals of playing a “shell game” with arts funding. “What looks like the worst-case scenario is that government cuts the B.C. Arts Council’s budget down to near zero, puts in the $10.9 million to fill it up for this year, because that’s what they’ve pledged, but eliminates gaming funding to arts and culture almost completely,” he said.
“Basically it looks like they’re stealing from charities to pay off their budget lie,” he added.
According to Herbert, the transfer of funds directly from gaming to the B.C. Arts Council is unusual. “My big concern is that $10.9 million,” he said. “They’re saying it’s going through the B.C. Arts Council, which is not traditionally how it’s given out. So the B.C. Arts Council normally gives out its money, and then gaming gives out its money.”
Groups who have multi-year funding commitments for gaming grants and did not receive money before the grant freeze include the Vancouver International Children’s Festival; the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival; Le Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver; and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra.
A ministry spokesperson told the Straight earlier that the transfer of funds from gaming to the B.C. Arts Council was a regular occurrence, however Herbert said this was not so. “Some gaming money goes into general revenue, which then can be said to go into the B.C. Arts Council, because the B.C. Arts Council gets its money through general revenue, as far as I can determine. And of course some of that gaming money gets into general revenue. But what they’ve said here is that it’s going directly from the gaming grants to the B.C. Arts Council. I don’t think it’s new money because if it was new money, they would have made a bigger deal about how they’re giving additional dollars to the B.C. Arts Council, but they didn’t do that.”
The extent of the B.C. Arts Council’s funding will be made public when the interim budget is released on September 1. However, noted Herbert, details regarding gaming grants are difficult to come by. “It’s very challenging to get figures from gaming in terms of which program is getting the money,” he said. “It’s not shared publicly on their website, and it’s not in the budget documents.”
The Straight has submitted a request for an interview with Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman and is awaiting a response.