Ellen Woodsworth: Cuts to arts funding reach a new low

By Ellen Woodsworth

Our community is facing a 50-percent cut to investment in arts and culture this year and about a 90-percent cut by 2010-11, thanks to the new B.C. Liberal budget.

This week at Vancouver city council, COPE brought forward a motion calling on the provincial government to restore the investment. Like many of you, we believe it’s the socially responsible and economically prudent thing to do.

Before the cuts, arts-and-culture expenditures represented only 0.5 percent of the budget. Now, the B.C. Liberals are expected to cut arts-and-culture investment from approximately $47.8 million in 2008-09 down to about $3.7 million in 2010-11, reducing it to 1971 levels.

That takes us back to pre-Expo and—some would argue—prehistoric levels of funding.

The only investment that the government has thus far restored—for fear of being sued—is the multiyear gaming funding. This is a proverbial drop in the bucket. Cultural workers in Ontario who faced similar cuts in the 1990s are still recovering from the dismantling of their infrastructure.

Not only are the cuts drastic and debilitating for the local arts community, they make no economic sense. According to the government’s own statistics, every dollar invested in the arts brings in $1.38 in taxes alone. That’s impressive for any sector.

MLA Spencer Herbert has pointed out that every other jurisdiction in Canada with the exception of B.C. has either increased or maintained support for arts and culture. As he told the Georgia Straight recently, “It certainly looks to me as though the premier has decided that arts and culture don’t matter in terms of the economy.”

In a recent article in Municipal World magazine, London, Ontario, city councillor and arts writer Gord Hume wrote: “Any industry that has an annual economic impact of $85 billion and employs well over one million people is a huge industry in Canada. Those dollars represent 7.4 percent of Canada’s annual gross domestic product.”

And that’s just the economic argument. The arts are essential to the way that we interact as individuals and communities. Art allows us to tell our own stories and build relationships and identity. It’s crucial to our well-being.

The City of Vancouver is committed to supporting the arts and culture community, but we can’t do it alone. We require provincial and federal investment and partnerships to maintain a healthy arts and culture community.

Arts are an important part of making Vancouver the most livable city in the world. Not only does supporting this sector make good sense for our communities, it’s also the economically prudent thing to do.

The argument that arts and culture take away from other areas like health is a straw man. The U.S. is dealing with the economic crisis through stimulus spending in all sectors—including the arts.

The U.S. and many other countries are not making cuts. They understand the value of investing in arts and culture. Why hasn’t B.C. caught up? To assume that this is anything other than a conscious dismantling of our social safety net and public service by the B.C. Liberals is shortsighted.

Let’s not let them get away with it. Please write to the premier at premier@gov.bc.ca and to your MLA and let them know that arts and culture matter.



Linda Lee Thomas

Sep 5, 2009 at 4:32pm

Brava to you Ellen Woodsworth. As soon as I heard this devastating news, I emailed our Mayor Gregor asking for his support in helping the Arts community. I'm still waiting for his reply. So it is very heartening to know that somebody at City Hall realizes and cares about what a huge impact these cuts will have on our city - say nothing of the whole Province. Thank you Ellen!

Cornelia Wyngaarden

Sep 6, 2009 at 3:46pm

Thank You for your support. It means a great deal. Personally I'm not looking for government to reverse the cuts instead I am looking for an increase in the funding for the arts on all levels of governments including the city. I hope you can look into that.

Amir Ali Alibhai

Sep 6, 2009 at 6:55pm

Thank you Ellen - an excellent piece. I agree with Cornelia and will be there to support the motion you are making to Council.

Anthony F. Ingram

Sep 8, 2009 at 10:36pm

Thanks for the support for arts funding.

My co-hort Valerie Sing Turner suggested to me what i think is a great idea. We stop calling ourselves "non-profit" societies and start calling ourselves "social-profit" societies.