Update: Since the reporting for this story was first conducted, the B.C. Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts has announced $7 million in Legacy funding will be administered by the B.C. Arts Council.
Joan Richoz, president of the Assembly of B.C. Arts Councils, admits the province’s Spirit Festivals program is a touchy subject, but maintains the grants will benefit many communities.
In late July, the B.C. government announced it would set aside $3 million for “arts and culture festivals” that must be held in February 2011.
The festival money has been allocated from a $10-million arts Legacy fund introduced at a time when the sector is reeling from the loss of core funding.
Under the B.C. Spirit Festivals program, grants of up to $50,000 each are available to arts councils and First Nations groups that apply before the deadline in early October.
The assembly, a nonprofit umbrella organization that mainly serves arts councils, has been asked to administer the funding in cooperation with the B.C. Arts Council.
Richoz said the Spirit Festivals program offers assembly members a much-needed chance to receive financial support.
“I think the benefits are that a lot of smaller arts councils will be able to put together a program that will be quite significant that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” Richoz told the Straight.
Critics in the arts sector have taken issue with how the Spirit Festivals program was rolled out and believe the money could be better directed to support the needs of financially ailing organizations.
In an open letter, past B.C. Arts Council member Tom Durrie called on the assembly to reject a role in handing out the funds.
Richoz acknowledged the demand, but maintained the program will provide arts councils with money that is greatly needed and would otherwise not be available.
“I understand that people are angry,” she told the Straight. “We don’t want it to become fighting amongst arts groups, sort of pitting one group against another, you know, ”˜You got money, and we didn’t,’ or whatever. Certainly, the assembly is feeling the pressure.”
Richoz added that the assembly is an apolitical organization mandated to serve the interests of its members, in this case by facilitating access to grant funding.
She said the Spirit Festivals could range from visual-arts exhibitions or museum programs to live performances or media-arts projects.
“That’s up to each organization to determine what they want to do,” she said. “It seems pretty broad in the scope of what kind of activities could be happening.”
Richoz was unable to say how many applications for B.C. Spirit Festivals funding have been received so far.
A request for an interview with Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger received no response.