NDP culture critic Spencer Herbert warns of arts fudge-it budget

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      NDP culture critic Spencer Herbert says he’s worried the B.C. Liberal government might “try to fudge the numbers” in the next provincial budget to fool the public into thinking arts funding has been restored. In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Herbert said that even if the March 2 budget continues funding the B.C. Arts Council with gaming revenue, this would not necessarily bring funding back to the 2008-09 level.

      “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.”

      The B.C. government’s legislative appropriation to arts and culture peaked at $27.88 million in the 2008-09 provincial budget, though only $19.55 million was actually spent. According to last year’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts service plan, the legislative appropriation for arts and culture in 2010-11 will fall to $2.25 million.

      The NDP has prepared a chart showing that in 2008-09, the Campbell government spent nearly $48 million on the arts from all funding sources. That included a $19.55 million legislative appropriation, $8.33 million from arts-and-culture endowment funds, and $19.8 million from gaming revenue.

      In last September’s budget, the total fell to $35.18 million. This included $19.8 million in gaming revenue. If no gaming revenue is advanced in this year’s budget, overall provincial arts-and-culture funding will fall to $6.9 million in 2010-11, according to the NDP. “People don’t get that there is gaming money and there is arts-council money,” Herbert said.

      Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Kevin Krueger has never responded to calls from the Straight. In November, the B.C. Liberal–controlled legislative committee on finance and government services recommended that the government make arts funding a “high priority” and return “overall actual funding levels” to those of 2008-09.

      The Campbell government’s February 9 throne speech mentioned the arts only once: “Our natural resources will remain the foundation of our economy,” Lt.-Gov. Steven Point said in the legislature. “We will add new competitive value to them with emphasis on technology, culture, art, and design.”

      Kevin McKeown, director of communications with the Alliance for Arts and Culture, told the Straight by phone that he took Point’s comment to mean that the government will implement the finance and government services committee’s recommendation. “How else could they add new competitive value to the natural resources except to restore funding to culture and the arts?” McKeown asked.

      Earlier this month, NDP Leader Carole James and three other MLAs, including Herbert, submitted petitions in the legislature calling for a restoration of arts funding.