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Aggressive cuts to arts sector was a mistake: Falcon

But premier's announced funding isn't new money: critics

BC’s finance minister says the government made a mistake in cutting tens of millions of dollars from the arts and culture sector over the past few years.

Kevin Falcon told reporters Jan 10 that funding cuts to that sector went too far and that needs to be acknowledged and rectified.

A day later, Premier Christy Clark announced that the province would add $15 million to gaming grants for adult arts and sports organizations, environmental groups and animal welfare agencies, following a review.

It brings the budget for gaming grants support of the arts and culture sector to $135 million, Clark says. In 2008, that pool was $156 million.

But, says NDP arts and culture critic Spencer Chandra Herbert, it’s the same $15 million Clark announced a year ago.

Out on Screen executive director Drew Dennis concurs, saying the figure looks like it’s reinstated as opposed to new funding.

That appears to be backed up in the grant review report done by Skip Triplett and released publicly Jan 11.

“The amount of $120 million is currently allocated to the community gaming grant pool in the 2011/12 provincial budget,” Triplett’s report says. “Premier Clark added an additional $15 million to the pool in 2011 as a one-time increase to the 2010/11 fiscal year. Without a revised allocation, the community gaming grant pool will revert to $120 million in 2012 and may remain at that level in subsequent years.”

Clark, however, promised the funding would be locked into the budget despite hard economic times.

Falcon told a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon it was those hard times three years ago which led to the Liberal government “locking down” spending.

But to do so in the arts sector, “in retrospect, it was a mistake at how aggressively we did that,” Falcon said. “The government believes the arts and culture sector is a great economic driver. It is a really big cultural driver. It is a tourism driver. It is an economic driver.” 

“The arts bind us together; the arts weave a story that we tell about ourselves,” Clark added the next day. While she was not in government at the time of the cuts, Clark acknowledged the “long-term impacts weren’t positive for a lot of communities.”

That’s what arts groups and Chandra Herbert told the Liberals in October 2009.

Funding for the BC Arts Council was slashed by more than half in 2008/2009. The government later added a $7 million top-up in September 2010 with money from the 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy.

“It makes absolutely zero economic sense,” Chandra said in October 2009. Arts spending is “actually growing the economy, giving back to investment in healthcare and education,” he said.

In response, Kevin Krueger, then-minister of tourism, culture and arts, said Chandra Herbert was spinning the facts.

“He’s being political,” Krueger said. “It’s disappointing. They don’t offer us any ideas. They offer us a twisted rendition of the facts.”

Now, however, Chandra Herbert wants to see how the Liberals’ admission of a mistake translates into rectifying the situation in the next provincial budget.

“That’s quite an admission to make,” he says of Falcon’s comments. Chandra Herbert says people lost jobs or moved away, and companies went out of business as a result of the cuts. “It’s been brutal for our creative economy.”

“We were facing a very significant economic downturn,” Falcon told reporters Jan 10. “We felt it was very important that government demonstrate fiscal discipline, that we not get ourselves into the situation that many governments around the world are suffering right now.

“As we made those decisions to reduce spending, I think in that particular area, I think we probably went too far,” he admitted. “I think we should acknowledge when that happens, and we should try and correct that, which we did, by putting $15 million back into it, and appointing Triplett to take a look at that sector and come back with longer-term recommendations.”

Triplett was appointed in July 2011 to review the province’s gaming grants. His report was made public Jan 11 and resulted in Clark’s announcement. The premier said groups focusing on adult arts and sports, animal welfare and environmental concerns would be eligible for community gaming grants.

“These reinstated groups will receive a total of $8 million,” the government said in a news release.

“It reinstates all of the lost eligibilities,” Triplett says.

But Chandra Herbert says the reinstatement translates into more people fighting over the same amount of money.

Dennis agrees but calls it “a step in the right direction in terms of having funding available to adult organizations.”

A special intake of applications for grants will take place from Jan 16 to Feb 13, which in Dennis’s view, isn’t very much time.

Of the $8 million, $6 million will be allocated for adult arts, culture and sports organizations, while environmenal organizations will be allocated $2 million. The remaining $7 million will be used to increase funding to groups whose grants were slashed in the past three years, including those responsible for fairs, festivals, youth arts and culture, community service, the BC Senior Games and community education organizations.