ArtStarts in Schools showcase sidelined

The dismal economic climate continues to rain down on local arts groups. ArtStarts in Schools has announced it’s cancelling next year’s spring showcase as a result of uncertainty regarding provincial arts funding.

“Zero dollars have been allocated for grant programs through the B.C. Arts Council for the upcoming fiscal year,” ArtStarts executive director and founder Wendy Newman told the Straight. “It will affect all of us—artists and arts organizations—and the way we work. But we won’t find out how much it will affect us until probably May. How can we put on an event in April if we’re not going to know whether the funding is there?”

Newman emphasized that ArtStarts in Schools, whose showcase helps artists and performing groups land gigs in schools throughout the province, has not yet suffered any cutbacks. But given the state of the arts sector’s financial affairs, now is the time to be prudent.

“We do not want to get ourselves into a deficit situation,” she said. “The writing is on the wall. Money isn’t going to be as forthcoming as it has been in the past, so we need to do something about it now.”

Other factors contributed to the decision to cancel the long-running three-day conference, which gives school representatives and community arts programmers the chance to see dozens of diverse troupes and costs about $50,000 to mount. The event would have taken place during some districts’ spring break as well as close to Easter.

Newman said ArtStarts’ staff will have direct contact with B.C. communities to handle booking. The organization books more than 2,000 shows every year.

Among the hundreds of groups that rely on ArtStarts to help them tour schools are Aché Brasil, Rupinder Sidhu’s Metaphor, and Sand Northrup’s One Woman Circus. Those who will be most affected by the showcase’s hiatus are new artists, Newman noted, who need the auditionlike event to get known.

“To them I apologize,” Newman said. “But I do believe we have to do things differently this year.”¦It’s a strategic move so that we can come back stronger in 2011.”

Spencer Herbert, Opposition critic for tourism, culture, and the arts, said the event’s cancellation reflects the impact of the B.C. Liberal cuts to the arts.

“I am really concerned that we will continue to see closures of companies”¦and the loss of the unique voice and vision B.C. artists bring to us every day,” Herbert told the Straight. “I have spoken with teachers, parents, and supervisors at school districts all across the province who are telling me because of cuts to arts groups”¦the kids of their community will have zero engagement in professional or community arts at their schools this year.”

Despite the decision to cancel the showcase, Newman maintains that it plays a crucial role in raising the profile of the arts. “Nothing replicates live performance.”


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Nov 5, 2009 at 8:30am

It's not the recession. Why are people still making that argument? No other province has cut arts funding this year, and most have increased it despite recession. BC was already giving the very least, and the amount it was given was so ridiculously minimal that to cut it it pointless - it makes no difference to the budget, but it cripples the arts community, particularly in areas like this that are crucial to kids but hard to fundraise for. This article doesn't seem to any address any of the facts on this issue that have been really well-covered over the past few months, including in the media. It's not the downturn. It's the lowering of corporate and other taxes that have dwindled the BC tax base to nothing. Meanwhile gambling revenues, which have stably supported these charities for years, are booming thanks to Liberals raising the gambling limits. And instead of raising corporate taxes back up to normal levels to raise funds for recessionary stimulus spending, Minister Coleman is yanking all that gambling money and more or less *putting it into general revenue* like any tin pot state. The BC Liberals are giving us a failed economy, recession or no. And we're paying the price.


Nov 5, 2009 at 2:52pm

Recession is an easy explanation for a ready made negative response and for the government to say NO. We keep hearing that the recession is over or, that at worst - we are on our way out of it. So what is so different in the economic reasoning of BC government to decimate the arts in comparison to other provinces and other sectors? Are we to believe that the 1/20 of the 1% of the budget will save BC's livelihood? Are we to believe that the money saved is in fact going towards education and health? Or, is it going towards other things that no one dares to speak of such as torch relays, bonus payments and other discretionary expenses? What government disavows its own economic findings? What experts is BC goverment consulting and relying on in making decisions when world-wide the opposite is maintainded as the norm : that investing into arts and culture ensures economic and societal well-being? Recently , at Toronto's Creative Cities Conference, over 300 attendees heard over and over again the importance of arts and culture and the role of the creative industry in the future economic developments. We heard that Ontario has, despite its own dire economic context, invested significant funds into the arts and culture community in acknowledgement of the role and contribution of the sector towards economic revival. One can only conclude that BC's government lacks the vision and is ill-advised on issues related to the positive impact of arts and culture and is blind to the facts of how integral the role the creative sector has in the well-being of other sectors such as health, social services, education and tourism. BC's arts and culture were these past years increasingly visible on the international stages; the sector was on the threshold of even greater international acclaim and on the upward path - instead it is being thrown aside, and just as the world is invited to join one of the largest parties ever. The past investments that the government takes pride in (rightfully so) and keeps brining up are all now made void as it brings funding levels to the lowest point in the history of public sector funding in BC. It's also misleading the tax payer that taxes are going towards supporting arts and culture for it is the gambling that pays for this and at a significantly decreased investment levels. And only for a little while longer. 92% of the funding to the arts and culture will be lost by 2012. The sector employs 80,000 people. Perhaps they too don't matter? Perhaps the close to 1million cultural consumers in BC might make a difference - if they fully understood that many of them could afford to engage and consume arts and culture because of the investments made through the public sector.