Members and supporters of the arts community gathered today (September 9) at the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery to protest cuts made to arts funding by the B.C. Liberal government.
Alliance for Arts and Culture's Amir Ali Alibhai leads a protest against Campbell's arts cuts at the Vancouver Art Gallery on September 9, 2009.
“Culture matters!” proclaimed a huge banner that overlooked at least 300 participants who braved the noontime late summer rain to attend the rally. For a time, a male protester lay motionless on the wet ground, his body outlined by chalk, petal-like material coming out of his mouth as if it was blood—all suggesting that the funding cuts were akin to murder.
Not much has changed since the budget update was unveiled on September 1, according to NDP MLA and arts critic Spencer Herbert in an interview before he addressed the rally.
Although the government, faced with a massive uproar over the cuts, announced the next day that it was restoring $20 million in gambling-revenue, Herbert told the Straight that this doesn’t represent much.
“Gaming [grants] was $20 million a year for arts and culture alone,” Herbert explained. “This was last year, 08-09.”
Now, Herbert noted, the $20 million will be spread not just for the arts but for other sectors like sports, public safety, and environment, as well, over a period of two years starting 2009.
At most, according to the NDP MLA, the restoration of some of the gaming funds will bump up the estimated total funding for the arts for this budget year 2009-2010 from the previous level of $23.075 million to about $25 million. This means that he anticipates that the arts community may be able to get only a share of $2 million from the gaming money.
In budget year 2008-2009, the arts got a total of $47.8 million from all sources including gaming, the B.C. Arts and Culture Special Endowment, and provincial funding to the B.C. Arts Council.
In the 2009-2010 budget laid out by the B.C. Liberals in February this year, total arts funding was downgraded to about $42 million because of projected cuts in endowment funding, Herbert recalled.
When Finance Minister Colin Hansen made his budget update in September, arts funding for 2009-2010 was trimmed to $23.075 million, representing the loss altogether of the gaming grants.
Arts funding for budget years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 is projected to be $3.7 million and $3.6 million, both not including gaming funds.
Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director, was the first of a line-up of speakers in the rally that included Herbert, arts supporter Yolanda Faris, Vancouver councillor Ellen Woodsworth, and multicultural arts promoter Mo Dhaliwal.
In a media interview at the sidelines of the protest, Alibhai said that his group has formed a research committee to figure out in exact numbers how different arts and cultural groups will bleed from the cuts.
However, Alibhai also noted that there are “hybrid” organizations that have a core mission other than the arts but still do arts programming or collaborate with arts groups to reach out to their clientele. These too will be affected, he said.
“There’s quite a network and connection between a lot of social mission-based organizations and arts organizations,” he said.