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.”