The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts has done an about-face on how it will disperse the rest of its $10 million Legacy funding, according to the Alliance for Arts and Culture.
Arts minister Kevin Krueger announced today that it will give $7 million of the money to the B.C. Arts Council to deliver to groups—apparently giving in to demands from a vocal arts community. “These monies will be distributed to the arts community through the independent peer-review adjudication process that has been established by the council,” Krueger said in a press announcement.
“It doesn’t seem to have the sort of strings attached to it that it had earlier,” Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture said of the funding. “The money is now to support the B.C. Arts Council’s own strategic plan rather than anything coming from the ministry.”
Alibhai was referring to a letter sent out to the arts community at the end of July that indicated the B.C. Arts Council’s annual operating clients could only access the remaining Legacy funds if they met certain goals of the government and its Legacy ideals. “In order to access this additional assistance, eligible applicants must demonstrate activities which reflect the vision of the legacy during the coming year,” the letter from Krueger read. “The vision for the Arts portion of the Legacy is to bring our artists, cultural organizations, creative industries, and communities together with the public in celebration of the unique and vibrant culture that reflects the spirit of British Columbia.
“Please confirm your intent to: participate in BC Spirit Festivals or Signature Celebration events; engage Artists in Residence; and/or offer programs that feature emerging British Columbian artists.”
Three million dollars of the $10 million Legacy money has already been dedicated to creating new B.C. Spirit Festivals around the province in February, a plan that has outraged arts groups faced with slashed funding.
In its spring budget, the B.C. Liberal government cut core funding to the B.C. Arts Council by about 50 percent, as well as discontinuing gaming funding to any arts groups that didn’t directly involve youth.
On August 11, B.C. Arts Council chair Jane Danzo stepped down to protest both those cuts and government interference in the council. That move, and the growing outcry from arts groups here and nationally, were part of the reason the government has changed its approach, NDP opposition critic Spencer Chandra-Herbert suggested to the Straight.
“The government is finally backing down because of the huge outcry from the arts community, and the opposition,” he said. “They should have done it before. The problem is a bunch of groups have already laid off staff because of the mishandling of funds. But it’s better that they’re backing off now than not at all.”
“I’m applauding a change of heart but I hope for a similar about-face with the gaming commission, because that was a huge amount of money that was cut and is still not available to the arts community,” Alibhai said.
The injection of $7 million back into the B.C. Arts Council will help bring the body’s overall arts budget, at $16 million, closer to the $19 million it had in 2008-09. In its spring budget, cabinet had refused to take the legislature committee on finance and governmental affairs’ recommendation, in November 2009, to restore arts funding to ’08/09 levels.
In the ministry's press statement, interim B.C. Arts Council chair Stan Hamilton also praised the government’s new move. “In 2009, the council board established its priorites and asked staff to prepare programs to fulfill the goals of the strategic plan. The additional funding announced today means the council will be able to advance the goals set out in our strategic plan, with a large portion of these funds going towards increased support for council’s operating clients, as indicated by the minister last month,” Hamilton stated, adding the council would move to start releasing funds to the community “promptly".
The programs Hamilton outlined in the release, other than regular operating funds for arts groups in the fall and in the spring, are: “support for the commissioning, creation, development and production of new works; artists in education; opportunities for the next generation of artists".
Alibhai said, as usual, “the devil will be in the details”. He is happy a good chunk of the money will go to arts groups struggling to run their seasons on reduced operational grants. And he welcomed more money going to new projects, an area that has suffered due to cuts and hit new and smaller organizations hard. Stressing he trusts the B.C. Arts Council’s ability to disperse funds fairly, Alibhai did express some concerns. “Where I’m having some trouble with some of those notions is, for example, creating new works—that’s hard for companies that have had their core funding cut to create new work,” he said. “But I’d rather trust those that know the community and work with them."
Today’s announcement has a cooperative tone that starkly contrasts Krueger’s comments last week, when he told CBC Radio’s Early Edition that “there are some people in the arts and culture community that are actually quite vicious”, and that they were “grinding” on him and Danzo “really hard”.
Asked if he was surprised by the sudden change of approach, Alibhai responded: “I know exactly what meeting he was at and I’m the ”˜vicious’ guy....It was not intended as a threat; it was us saying ”˜Hey work with us, because there is a lot of political clout in the arts.’...It was a strained relationship.”
Chandra Herbert was more critical of the way the matter was handled. “That was just bizarre. Clearly there’s no leadership and an atmosphere of chaos in the government for the minister to basically attack the community and say that they are vicious and it’s their fault that Jane Danzo resigned—which is really fabrication,” he told the Straight. “And then to flip-flop this week and be all buddy-buddy with the arts community this week doesn’t give anyone any trust in the government.”