The NDP’s culture critic, Spencer Herbert, has said that the B.C. Liberal government has cut funding for arts and cultural organizations by 50 percent this fiscal year, and by 92 percent for 2010–11. Herbert came up with these figures after combining the effects of the September 1 provincial budget with recent cuts to direct-access gaming grants.
“What it will mean is there will be festivals that won’t go ahead,” Herbert told the Georgia Straight in a September 1 phone interview from Victoria. “There will be smaller companies which cease to exist. There will be many, many from the creative sector who will decide they will leave B.C.”
He added that provincial cuts to the arts will eliminate thousands of jobs, damage the tax base, and undermine tourism. “When you don’t have anything for people to do or see, they’re not going to come back,” he said. “We [Vancouver] already have a reputation amongst some as ”˜no-fun city’.”
In 2008–09, the B.C. government allocated $47.8 million to arts and culture through gaming grants, the B.C. Arts and Culture Endowment Special Account, and provincial funding to the B.C. Arts Council, according to Herbert. Last February, the budget reduced that to $42.22 million. Herbert maintains that, as a result of the September 1 budget, arts funding had been slashed to $23.08 million. In 2010–11, the B.C. government has allocated just $3.75 million to arts and cultural organizations.
The B.C. Arts and Culture Endowment Special Account was slashed from $8.33 million to $1.5 million in the recent budget. The B.C. Film Commission budget was trimmed from $1.55 million to $1.39 million. In 2008–09, the budget included $90,000 in capital funding for the arts. There is no capital funding for the arts in this year’s budget.
Herbert noted that the B.C. government’s own research has demonstrated that for every dollar invested in the arts, $1.38 comes back in taxes. “It certainly looks to me as though the premier has decided that arts and culture don’t matter in terms of the economy—[meaning that] arts and culture don’t matter in terms of jobs—and that launching an all-out attack on them is acceptable and the right thing to do,” Herbert said. “That’s the only thing I can read from his budget.”
Finance Minister Colin Hansen and Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Kevin Krueger did not respond by deadline to the Straight’s request for interviews. The B.C. Liberal platform noted that B.C.’s arts and culture sector employs more than 78,000 people and contributes over $5 billion each year to the provincial economy.
Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, told the Straight by phone on the morning of September 2 that the government has cut overall funding for the arts, but that this isn’t apparent if you look at the B.C. Arts Council budget for 2009–10. “I feel that an incredibly bizarre shell game has been played with arts funding,” Alibhai said. “An entire sector was too easily cut.”
Earlier this year, the B.C. government transferred $7 million to the B.C. Arts Council, which was unallocated arts money from the previous year. The budget topped up this funding with $3.68 million.
Alibhai noted that $10.9 million in gaming money was also transferred to the B.C. Arts Council. But he emphasized that approximately $20 million in gaming grants will not go directly to arts groups this year. (Shortly before the Straight went to press on the afternoon of September 2, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development announced that three-year gaming grants would be honoured. The ministry's news release did not clarify if any gaming-grant funds would be clawed back from the B.C. Arts Council.)
The recent Ontario budget included about $130 million in additional tax relief and investments to support the entertainment and creative industries. Herbert said that the B.C. government has gone in the opposite direction. “I’m wondering if the film industry is being thrown under the bus,” Herbert said, “and basically, they’re just going to allow companies to fold and for us to lose a huge amount of business and economic activity, just because they’ve decided that it’s expendable.”