The former chair of the B.C. Arts Council has slammed the government for provincial cuts that are hobbling arts groups. She is also speaking out about the Liberals’ lack of support for the council.
Jane Danzo, who left her post on August 11, told the Straight she resigned the position she held for a year to protest the provincial government’s lack of consultation with the B.C Arts Council and its slashing of core funding.
“It was a very difficult decision but I thought I could probably effect more change by stepping down than I could by staying,” Danzo, past president of Pacific Opera Victoria, told the Straight. “The main factor was that the council was challenged in what it was mandated to do.”
In her letter of resignation to Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger, Danzo criticized cabinet's refusal to take its the legislature committee on finance and governmental affairs’ recommendation, in November 2009, to restore arts funding to ’08/09 levels. Instead, in their spring budget, the Liberals axed the funding the B.C. Arts Council hands out to groups by an estimated 50 percent, from around $14 million to about $8 million.
Danzo also expressed dismay that the government refused to consult the B.C. Arts Council when it established a new $10 million Arts Legacy Fund, despite its cuts to core operating grants. Her letter states: “Even after the announcement, the Board was not consulted for input, nor was it permitted to know the details as they were developed by ministry staff over a four month period. Meanwhile, the arts community struggled, some members with life-threatening uncertainty, as they reduced their programming, laid off staff, and made poignant appeals to patrons and donors for further support.”
When asked what she thought of the new B.C. Spirit Festivals that the government has set up with $3 million of the Legacy fund, Danzo replied: “The lack of consultation was extremely frustrating. I can see that the government would want to celebrate the success of the Cultural Olympiad—we all enjoyed it—but a lot of that talent was made possible through arts funding and through the organizations that allow people to show their art. So if I was going to consider something as a legacy, I would rather see a large portion of that go to the core funding in order to sustain those organizations.”
She added that, if there were money left over, it would be better invested in something like the B.C. Renaissance Fund, a $25-million program launched in 2005 to stimulate endowment funding. By 2009, said Danzo, it had raised about $25 million more in matching funding.
Danzo has questioned the ability of the B.C. Arts Council board to operate because it is not at arm’s length from the government, depending on the province for both budget allocation and ministry employees. She said arts councils in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland-Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, not to mention the Canada Council for the Arts, all have more independence from their governments and are able to better advocate for the arts. In raising this issue with deputy minister Lori Wanamaker yesterday, when she presented the ministry with her letter, Danzo said she “had reason to be hopeful that there will be some substantive changes”.
As Danzo does her part to bring about change, some local groups are reeling from the cuts they’ve just received in this year’s first round of grant allocations. B.C. Arts Council executive director Gillian Wood confirmed to the Straight that the peer-review advisory committee decided to prioritize arts groups for funding rather than make even cuts across the board.
The result is some groups getting hit harder than others. Among the badly cut is the Vancouver Chamber Choir, which was shocked to see its provincial funding had been reduced by 75 percent—from $70,000 to $17,500—just as it’s embarking on its 2010-11 season. It’s akin to being “suckerpunched”, said frustrated general manager Violet Goosen.
“We’re struggling to deal with it because we don’t know what to do,” she told the Straight. “Fifty-two thousand is more than any of us make on salary here, and there are only three of us [employees]....I think what I find really frustrating is that as a nonprofit I’m expected to run that organization with a balanced budget. But it’s really difficult when you’re dealing with a funder who can’t or won’t commit to a certain amount even as my season is opening. At least with the Canada Council, we get three-year funding and I know what I’m getting; I can plan.”
Goosen, who has been involved with the Vancouver Chamber Choir since 1973 and has managed it for 21 years, says the funding cuts and confusion are unprecedented. “I’ve dealt with every government that’s ever governed in this province and I’ve never experienced anything like this. In the ’80s we were in a recession and we all got cuts, but nowhere near what these have been.”
As for the $3 million in funding for new Spirit Festivals projects and other Arts Legacy promises that recently came down from the government, Goosen says they’re too vague to really count on, with little clarity on specific amounts that might be handed out to groups.
For now, her team is trying to cut everywhere possible to make up for the cutback from the B.C. Arts Council. And Goosen is questioning the decision of the juries to rank organizations. “I would be interested to know what criteria they used, because the jury comments we received were all very positive,” she said.
Sandy Garossino, chair of the advocacy committee at the Alliance for Arts and Culture, said although her organization supports the B.C. Arts Council juries in principle and knows they faced a difficult decision, she hopes the move to rank groups won’t cause division within the arts community. “To feel done wrong, that’s just a natural human response. There are always points of tension between groups...so the alliance is very concerned that the arts sector stay strong.”
She added it might be difficult for some groups to speak out about the magnitude of their cuts because they don’t want to risk losing sponsors or other government funding.
“The bottom line is that the savings from the budget point of view are negligible. We’re talking about destroying an entire sector for one one-thousandth of the [provincial] budget,” she said.