Federation of B.C. Writers reacts to arts-funding cuts

Among the arts organizations hardest hit by the latest round of provincial-government funding cuts is the Federation of B.C. Writers. The Vancouver-based nonprofit runs an array of grassroots-level programs promoting literary writing in the province. It has recently learned that the operating grant it has received annually from the government-run B.C. Arts Council is being slashed by 80 percent—from $20,500 to $4,500.

According to the federation’s president, Craig Spence, shock over the size of the cut was deepened by how abrupt it seemed. “Organizations make their plans based on assumptions about what’s coming in, so when there’s a drastic and sudden cut like that, it really makes it difficult to plan properly,” Spence said in a phone interview with the Straight. “Part of our plan going into this year was to look for alternatives and expand our sources of revenue. Well, again, because we’re having to restructure so radically in terms of staff and that kind of thing, it makes it difficult even to achieve those kinds of goals”¦.If it wasn’t just all of a sudden, boom, you’ve lost 80 percent of your funding—we might be better positioned to say, ”˜How can we plan for this circumstance?’”

Spence said his organization’s first response to the funding loss—which creates a significant hole in its overall annual budget of roughly $70,000—has been to reduce staff hours across the board. However, he’s unable to say at this point whether the organization will be able to continue offering its current group of programs.

“It’s hard to say what exactly will happen at the end of the day,” he said. “But there are things like, how do you maintain your Web site when you can’t afford to pay for the services that would normally do those kinds of functions? The core services are things that we need to do. We need to stay in touch with our membership.”

Like arts groups across the province, the federation had been bracing for reduced support from the B.C. Arts Council, ever since the B.C. Liberal government announced in its April budget that it would be shrinking the pool of money annually available to the council by almost half, from around $14 million to around $8 million. But Spence and his colleagues are stunned by the scale of the cut aimed at their organization, and less than enthusiastic about the near-simultaneous announcement from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts declaring $3 million in funding for so-called Spirit Festivals, meant to be reminiscent of last February’s Cultural Olympiad.

“One of the things that really surprised and disappointed us was we received this 80-percent cut in our operating grant from the B.C. Arts Council,” Spence recalls, “and we were sitting around in an emergency meeting, determining how to deal with that—and hot off the Internet there’s an announcement of a new round of possible funding that groups could apply for, all to do with the Spirit Festivals.

“That sort of says to us that they’re sucking the oxygen out of the one room and filling up some bright balloons in another. And the room they’re sucking the oxygen out of is the ongoing arts groups that have supported the development of all kinds of arts and cultural activities in the province for many years, and they’re dedicating money to this three-year program that perpetuates the feelings that were generated in the Cultural Olympiad. Well, in our view, you get more culturally and artistically if you support the kinds of ongoing activities that foster the arts in a more broad sense than that. The priorities aren’t quite right.”

When asked what he thought the government’s motives were for the cuts, Spence refused to speculate, but said he’s still unable to see the overall financial purpose of the move.

“There hasn’t been any consultation and we haven’t been given enough information to determine how that decision was made,” he remarked. “All we can say is that we think it’s the wrong decision”¦.The cuts to the arts are so disproportionate. In terms of having an impact on the kinds of budget constraints that the government faces, the cuts they’re making to the arts are almost insignificant. The damage they’re doing to the arts community and the organizations that foster and support the arts in B.C. is huge—it’s almost incalculable. So one has to question: ”˜Why are they doing it that way? Why this disproportionate focus on the arts as an area to save money?’ Again, that’s a question we don’t have a clear answer for. I don’t understand it.”




Aug 21, 2010 at 1:26pm

i'm glad that they're questioning these cuts. we all know that this gov't as well as many govt's all over the globe despise the arts. it poses a threat to their authority. consciousness is dangerous and must be limited within a species that prides itself on management and hierarchy.


Aug 21, 2010 at 2:27pm

Maybe they are sucking the oxygen out of organizations whose sole purpose is to exist merely for the purpose of getting money.If the Federation of BC Writers Federation ceased to exist, I don't think it would have a noticeable impact on the world. After all, this cut is merely for 16,000. Can't the writer's fund their own organization? Why does it have to be government funding?


Aug 21, 2010 at 2:30pm

get real sruoga. "Govt's all over the world despise the arts"????? Grow up and support yourself!!!!!!!!!


Aug 22, 2010 at 1:23pm

thanks for lending your name to the ignorance movement 'bowser'

grants/gov't funding are supplied for certain programs that don't create a profit in monetary terms immediately, therefore idiots, such as yourself, are too thick in the skull to understand how important these programs are.

wake up you fool.


Aug 22, 2010 at 5:19pm

Gee sruoga. your level of name calling shows the true ignorance in this discussion. Why can't your little group fund itself????? I dare you to try to answer that question!!! So just because a program doesn't "create a profit in monetary terms immediately" doesn't mean it is that important. Here's a thought for your little mind - there's only so much money to go around. You can't spend a dollar on one issue and then spend the same dollar on another issue. It's one choice or another. When your little club of writer's get to the level of saving lives, feeding people, curing illnesses, housing the homeless, etc, then maybe you'll get the dollar instead of those groups.


Aug 22, 2010 at 10:30pm

you don't get it bowser. money isn't real. you're part of the economics cult that acts as a blight on our species. feeding people, curing disease, clothing the poor? to keep their slimy market speculators around, corporations destroy their goods to give the illusion of scarcity on a daily basis. we could easily solve all of these problems and still have more than enough paper tokens to support the arts at the end of the day. clearly you have little appreciation for extrasomatic knowledge and it shows. that's cool though. feel free to continue stroking the owners off with your low brow understanding of the world. with all the money they put into the propaganda machine, someone is going to have to fall for it or they will be terribly terribly vexed. i'm just glad that it's you who's being duped. bravo.

Craig Spence

Aug 23, 2010 at 7:01am

I'm interested in knowing, particularly from Bowser, what people feel the boundaries on government spending should be with regard to Arts & Culture. Do you think the current round of funding cuts are good public policy, or merely a necessary response to fiscal difficulties the government currently finds itself in? Do you believe that artistic forms of expression should be dictated strictly by 'market forces', or that society benefits by supporting artists and arts organizations, and encouraging forms of expression that exist outside the dictates of supply and demand?


Aug 23, 2010 at 11:25am

for those who need numbers to speak:

For every dollar invested in the arts, $1.36 worth of economic activity is generated.
Perhaps this will bring the conversation to the level of those who can only hear profit, profit. Or measure the world this way.

What I found interesting is the paradox: how we pride ourselves with out artists (case in point the olympics). And at the same time we slash the funding? Where do you think these artists come from?

Ben Nuttall-Smith

Aug 23, 2010 at 12:21pm

Art, Music and Literature provide food for the soul without which we become automatons. Without the arts, our environment becomes bland and stagnant. Artists, musicians and writers seldom make enough at their crafts to survive. Most support themselves with other jobs. This is especially true today for writers and publishers. Many small Canadian publishers barely make ends meet but remain in business because they believe strongly in their Canadian writers and in their desire to help develop and sustain emerging writers and artists.
Apart from membership fees, organizations that cultivate and support artists, musicians and writers depend almost exclusively on volunteers and donors. Without some support from government funding, many support groups have to close offices, lay off staff and curtail activities that otherwise benefit the general public.


Aug 23, 2010 at 9:54pm

There's no denying everybody loves a good tractor-pull or monster truck meet now and then, Bowser. Yet when the chips are down and your soul is sore, it's art & nature that many seek out, to help create meaning out of life. Without art we lose a whole mode of language; without writing and being able to share the human experience, we lose our souls.
You may not like the Federation of BC Writers receiving operating funding--understood; I have the SRFA interest in sports - but I will be contributing to payments from the shared public purse for the Olympics for many a year to come. We all pay for many things that benefit others - schools, when our kids are long graduated ... highways when we perhaps never drive a car.