Monday, August 31, 2009

BC Liberals Slash Arts Funding

Really alarming news out of Victoria, as the Liberal government guts arts funding through its BC Access fund. Not a direct blow to Pacific Theatre, as we have not previously received funding from this source, but had strong reasons to believe that we would begin to be funded in this cycle. On the one hand, you can't lose what you never had: on the other, we had put some revenue from this source in our tentative 2009/10 operating budget, and hoped that it would ease us through an ambitious season faced with the current economic climate.

But far more troubling is the widespread impact of this action on the arts community at large. Below, snapshots of the impact on two valued local companies, The Vancouver Chamber Choir and Ruby Slippers Theatre. The VCC's Violet Goosen served on Pacific Theatre's board of directors for many years, and as a seasoned arts administrator she is quoted at length in The Vancouver Sun article. Diane Brown directed PT's premiere of CARIBOO MAGI a few years back: this morning I received an email from her outlining the devastating impact of this announcement on her company. These companies are not exceptional cases: there will be a similar impact on arts organizations throughout the province.

I understand that things are tough for everybody in this current economy, and there is immense pressure on the provincial government to steer a way through difficult fiscal times. But if 40% cuts to BC Arts Council funding weren't enough of an indication that the current Provincial government is placing a disproportionate share of the burden on arts organizations (in a province which already has nearly the worst level of arts funding in the nation), surely this announcement confirms that perception.

I am again reminded of Winston Churchill. When asked to cut funding for the arts to finance the war effort, he replied, “Then what are we fighting for?" (quoted by Colin Jackson, "Toward A Surplus Of Meaning."

Denise Ryan, The Vancouver Sun, August 30 2009

VANCOUVER — Dozens of arts organizations received word late Friday that the provincial government is slashing their gaming grants, including groups that had been guaranteed three-year funding.

“It’s a disaster,” said Bryan Pike, executive director of Word on the Street, which may have to cut literacy programs.

The $20-million in cuts will hobble the arts community, said Spencer Herbert, NDP critic for tourism, arts and culture. Arts community members were in shock and tears at Herbert’s Denman street constituency office yesterday as they scrambled to come up with a plan. Some even suggested a class-action lawsuit against the B.C. Liberal government, said Herbert.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir, one of the organizations that had its three-year “guarantee” pulled, will suffer a $60,000 shortfall this year. “Based on our letter from them last year, we planned our season and our program,” said choir general manager Violet Goosen. Goosen said she started to shake when she heard. “This came out of nowhere.” she said. “We we will have to cut outreach programs that bring music to schools and low-income families.”

Many arts organizations, like the Vancouver Children’s Festival, which is losing a grant of approximately $90,000, had already completed their seasons, and are now facing massive deficits. “It’s like the government is just passing their deficits on to our non-profit organizations,” said Pike.

Goosen called the cuts, which come on top of a 40-per-cent cut to the B.C. Arts Council, “a perfect storm” for arts in B.C. “We could have managed if we had a timely warning,” said Goosen. “I’ve worked with many governments over 30 years and none has treated the arts as poorly as this one.”

Last week, The Sun reported that the province’s lottery grants program would focus on social organizations and reduce or eliminate grants in several other categories this year. No one from the ministry would comment on the changes announced in a news release.

The effect of funding cuts on RUBY SLIPPERS THEATRE
Excerpted with permission from an email by the company's Artistic Director, Diane Brown

Dear Friends,

“The humanities done right are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be.”
Mark Slouka, in an article from Harpers Magazine, Dehumanized

Like dozens of arts organizations across British Columbia, Ruby Slippers Theatre had an agreement with the B.C. Government. In that agreement dated April 2008, they stated in writing that over the next three years, our company would receive $120,000 paid in $40,000 installments each spring. A legally binding agreement we assumed, we planned our seasons accordingly, hired people, signed contracts, rented theatres and rehearsal halls, bought advertising, etc. We completed one of our most successful seasons ever at the end of 2008/09.

We are still waiting for our 2008/09 installment of $40,000 and have just been told that it is not coming. In an email on Friday afternoon Aug. 28th, we were informed without any warning or any public consultation that after “a review” of the program, our money is not forthcoming. They are not honouring the agreement. They are not paying the money that they promised and owe us. Moreover, they are not honouring the rest of the agreement for the next two years. Ruby Slippers Theatre is now forced to cancel most of our 2009/10 season, break contracts with people, put people out of work, and look at the biggest deficit ever in our 20 year history.

In the business world, the government’s kind of behavior would result in lawsuits. They should be accountable and responsible for their agreements, and are guilty of breach of contract and public trust.

To slash and burn the arts and culture sector, one of the few sectors in B.C. that is actually stimulating the economy, is horrendously foolish and short sighted. It makes no economic sense, and absolutely no social sense. What then is the cultural legacy we are leaving our children? An Olympic t-shirt?

Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals are destroying a sector in B.C. that was stimulating the economy and thereby financially benefiting all British Columbians, and laying waste to a rich cultural legacy for generations to come. . . .


Diane Brown
Artistic Director, Ruby Slippers Theatre

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