NDP leadership hopeful Nicholas Simons has outlined an arts policy that includes restoring gaming grants to adult arts organizations and honouring the government’s 1999 memorandum of agreement with the B.C. Association of Charitable Gaming that pledges one-third of gambling revenues to the charitable sector.
“I think we need to restore the gaming grant funds to non-profits and charities,” Simons said in an interview today at the Straight offices. “That’s had a huge impact on the smaller groups throughout the province, festivals and museums. I’d like to see that 33.3 percent, which was basically promised to the people of the province when gambling was expanded, to go back to the arts and charities.”
Simons also expressed support for an arm’s-length B.C. Arts Council. “Other jurisdictions in the country have less connection between the direction of funding from government,” he said. “So what you want to have is an arts council that has the capacity to make decisions about the allocation of funds. Really, it requires some expertise. It requires some vision.”
Funding to the B.C. Arts Council should be restored to the 2008-2009 level of $19 million, said Simons, and should be increased beyond that figure. “I think it’s important to say the goal would be to restore funding to 2008, 2009 levels, but ultimately get us to a place where we’re not the lowest in all of Canada,” he said. According to figures from Statistics Canada, B.C.’s per capita spending on the arts sits at $6.54, compared to the most recently available national average of $26.73.
Simons tied the arts to the province’s regional development, noting: “How are we going to make sure that our communities remain healthy? I think part of helping them remain healthy is to ensure there are artist communities to attract people, and that our rural communities are attractive to professionals, to doctors, for example—if there are things to do, if there are activities to be involved in, if there’s a rich cultural mosaic they can be part of.”
Video of Simons’ interview, complete with a musical performance by the cello-playing MLA, will follow on the Straight website soon.