Heart of the City Festival braces for cuts

“Don’t walk away from a field of rice,” reads the quote from Strathcona community activist Bessie Lee that’s displayed prominently on the Heart of the City Festival’s Web page. “After one plants nice seed in a field, they must be protected and nourished.”

This fall, the organizers of the Downtown Eastside event, which runs through Sunday (November 8), have been reaping the bounty from years of diligent cultivation. Last week’s opening weekend saw full houses for several productions, executive artistic producer Terry Hunter told the Straight. “The festival has built up a reputation and a profile and a credibility both within the community and outside the community.”

It should be a celebratory time for Hunter and his coworkers. Yet a cloud of apprehension hangs over their undertaking, because Vancouver Moving Theatre, which produces the festival, is one of many B.C. arts organizations slated to have their provincial funding drastically reduced in 2010. According to Hunter, the company received approximately $45,000 in Direct Access money toward this year’s production; next year, that figure will be slashed to zero.

“It’s a massive cut for us—between 60 and 70 percent [of the event’s provincial funding],” Hunter said, adding that the reduction will also endanger VMT’s ability to leverage funds from the federal government and the City of Vancouver. “We’ve spent five years trying to make this festival sustainable, and now it’s like the rug has been pulled out from under us.”¦In terms of what the work means to this community, and the economics of it, there’s kind of a craziness to this whole thing.

“We will continue, always, to do work within this community,” Hunter added. “But the scale and the breadth and the depth of the work may dramatically change. And it’s going to really impact the community, because hundreds and hundreds of people participate in our projects.”