Fearing a move toward austerity at the civic level, the BC Alliance of Arts and Culture has put out an urgent call to its community to ask the mayor and city councillors to approve annual grant allocations at a special council meeting on Tuesday (March 31).
"The BC Alliance recently learned that there is no assurance that you will support the motion to approve the annual grant allocations to the arts and culture sector, which is coming before you on March 31," the alliance says in a form letter aimed at Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Vancouver councillors. "We respectfully request that you do not hesitate to approve the allocation of these much needed funds."
The city report on 2020 Cultural Grants recommends a total of $6,273,590 to 208 cultural organizations, with an acknowledgement from staff that Vancouver arts groups are facing devastating hardship with social-distancing measures that prevent theatres from opening.
That includes second instalments of 58 operating grants totalling $1,717,530, such as a recommended $152,000 to the Arts Club Theatre, $100,000 for Ballet BC, $75,000 to the Contemporary Art Gallery, $90,000 to Full Circle: First Nations Performance Society, and $60,000 to Bard on the Beach. It also encompasses the balance of quarterly grant installments to the city's five major institutions (the Vancouver Art Gallery Association, Science World, Museum of Vancouver, H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, and Vancouver Maritime Museum Society) at a total of $2,961,400.
"By March 17, 2020, most cultural nonprofits in civic-owned, leased, or private facilities had closed to public. Furthermore, cultural groups who had public events scheduled in March, April, May, and June had to cancel or postpone their events to comply with Federal, Provincial, as well as municipal advisories," the report by city cultural staff states. "At the time of assessment of these grants and initial drafting of this report’s recommendations (early to mid-February), there was no clear evidence of the devastatingly adverse impact that COVID-19 pandemic would immediately have on the arts and cultural sector, and its ability to continue providing vital access to a wide range of creative activities that contribute to the history and stories of Vancouver. The mid-, and long term adverse impact on the sector is entirely unknown at the moment, but is projected to be significant."
British Columbia has more artists per capita than any other province, and Vancouver has the largest concentration of artists of any major city in Canada (8.54 percent, according to a Hill Strategies study based on a 2011 National Household Survey). B.C. has the third-highest cultural GDP in Canada.
Here is the rest of the letter the alliance is urging members to send to civic politicians by Tuesday:
Countries, provinces and municipalities need to find ways to respond to this pandemic while taking care of everyone, supporting the economy and valuing the important role that art and culture play in our lives. As you know, our sector is characterized by a high proportion of self-employed people who are dependent on revenues from cancelled performances, events, and exhibitions, and now face a major threat to their livelihoods.
This is a time when we need the creativity of the cultural sector more than ever. The courage of creative people can help overcome the crisis we now face and the ones soon to come. Artists are not only indispensable, they are vital, especially now.
Norway, Germany and Australia have already stepped up to the plate, investing billions of dollars into their arts and cultural organizations because they recognize the contributions that their artists make to their economies and to the health of their citizens.
There is fear that you, Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver, may be leaning towards austerity, thinking that a lower overall spend is preferable to stimulating the economy. As we have seen at the provincial and federal levels, this is a time for all levels of government to invest generously, and ensure that we don’t see a major downward contraction of our economy.
Arts and culture contribute significantly to Vancouver’s economy and to the international status enjoyed by this city as one of the best places to live in the world. At a time when artists and arts organizations are deeply impacted by COVID-19, we need to know that you understand our value and that you will support our recovery.
In times of crisis and beyond, the arts are essential to our mental health and our hope for a better future. Do the right thing and approve the 2020 Cultural Grants, so that artists in this city know they have a fighting chance.
On a provincial level today, Lisa Beare, B.C.'s minister of tourism, arts and culture, announced a new Arts and Culture Resilience Supplement in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: an additional $3 million will be administered by the B.C. Arts Council. The emergency infusion means organizations are eligible to receive up to $15,000 in early April to help them pay their bills.