NDP Leader Carole James and three other NDP MLAs have submitted petitions in the legislature signed by constituents opposed to arts cutbacks.
James, who represents Victoria-Beacon Hill, told the House yesterday that her petition was signed by 2,290 people.
Stikine NDP MLA Doug Donaldson's petition had 843 signatures and Cariboo North NDP MLA Bob Simpson's petition had 224 signatures.
Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert told the Straight that his petition was signed by 1,200 people.
"What really impressed me in going through the names is that they were from all over the province—small communities, big communities," Herbert said. "It was a last-minute thing. Talking to the people who put out the petitions, the people were literally pulling them out of their hands [because] they wanted to sign them so badly. People are looking for any means possible to get the government to change its course."
According to Herbert, an ad hoc group loosely affiliated with Victoria's ProArt Alliance tried to take the petition provincewide.
He also credited small community arts councils across the B.C. for drawing attention to the government's funding cutbacks.
Herbert said that two B.C. Liberal MLAs, Ida Chong (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) and John Les (Chilliwack-Sumas) were also asked to present petitions to the legislature, but they wouldn't do this.
"We were trying to get that bipartisan support," Herbert said.
Les chairs the legislature's finance and government services committee.
Last year, the committee called on the government to restore arts funding in the upcoming budget, which is expected to be unveiled on March 2.
"I’m concerned what they’ll do is take the gaming money, put it in the B.C. Arts Council to keep the arts council budget whole, but overall that will still be more than a 50-percent cut in arts funding," Herbert said. "That's better than a 90-percent cut, but it's still brutal."
He added that the government might try to "fudge the numbers" and hope that people who are not familiar with the funding environment in B.C. will say, "Oh you got your money in the arts council, so why are you so upset?"
"People don't get that there is gaming money and there is arts council money," Herbert said.
Combining the gaming money and the arts council money, Herbert estimates that the B.C. government allocated $47.7 million to arts in the 2008-09 fiscal year. In 2009-2010, the gaming money was shuffled over to the arts council, which saw its legislative appropriation cut sharply.
In the most recent Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts service plan for 2010-11, the government announced its intention to allocate $2.25 million for arts and culture, which is a sharp drop from the $27 million allocated in the 2008-09 budget.
According to the B.C. government's Web site, $10.93 million in grants are being funded this year through the B.C. Arts Council, and another $1.5 million through the Arts Legacy Fund and B.C. 150 Cultural Fund.
In addition, $7 million that wasn't spent from the 2008-09 legislative allocation was turned over to the B.C. Arts Council this year.
The Ministry of Housing and Social Development is allocating an additional $8.47 million in gaming grants to 324 B.C. arts and culture groups, according to the government Web site.
The B.C. government also says it has spent $4.1 million to fund community organizations with three-year gaming grant commitments, and gave $1.1 million to the B.C. Film Society.
This adds up to about $33 million, which is a 30-percent reduction from Herbert's estimate of $47.7 million for the previous year. However, the government claims that it spent $37.75 million on arts and artists in the previous year.
The NDP has prepared a chart that shows the B.C. Liberal government cut arts funding to $42 million in last February's budget, and then to $35.1 million in the postelection September budget. Next year, according to the NDP, the B.C. government plans to spend $6.95 million.
"Cutting arts investment in such a brutal way is bad for the economy," Herbert said. "The government's own studies show that. It will cost us jobs. It will cost us companies. It will cost us our ability to tell our stories and get to know each other. But it's also bad socially for so many reasons. These kinds of cuts are indefensible."