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Arts cuts will hurt queers

'That's going to put a real pinch on what we can do': Gibson

Cuts to provincial arts funding will make it more difficult to tell queer stories on screen, in print and in festivals such as Pride in Art, say local queer artists and festival organizers.

The BC Liberals announced in February that they would be cutting funding for the arts over the next three years, with the sharpest decline coming a year after the provincial election.

While a supplementary grant will bolster core arts funding this year, the next two years will see funding slashed to half of the 2008/09 amount.

These cuts will “really impact community’s ability to communicate about who we are, to celebrate and it will be devastating to the arts and culture sector,” says Vancouver-Burrard MLA and NDP arts critic Spencer Herbert.

The Liberals attribute the cuts to the current economic troubles; to preserve service levels in areas like health care and education, the government has to reduce expenditures elsewhere. The arts, with a budget of about $19 million last year, will be one of many areas cut.

But Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Bill Bennett managed to find savings from last year to maintain this year’s arts budget and hopes to find more money for the two years following.

“All I can say is I’m going to work my tail off to try and make sure we’ve got that money in the budget and I’m sorry that we don’t have the certainty that everyone deserves but these are tough times. It is totally and completely and only the dire economic circumstances,” says Bennett.

He disputes the claim that the cuts are timed for after the election.

“It’s just sheer lunacy to suggest that we want to cut arts and culture. We very much don’t want to reduce funding to arts and culture and if there’s any way that we can restore that budget in the next two years, we will,” Bennett says.

Drew Dennis, executive director of Out on Screen, says the cuts as they stand now mean a $10,000 funding drop for Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival, roughly two percent of the organization’s budget.

“A $10,000 cut is essentially the equivalent of about 15 films,” Dennis says. “It might not shut us down but it does make us work harder and it does put more pressure on the private sector and individual donors to kind of make up that difference.”

“I think it’s going to have a significant effect,” says Jeff Gibson, president of the Pride in Art Society.

“Because of the economic situation, we’ve noticed already a drop in sponsorships and donations in the business community,” he notes. “If we’re getting it [cuts] from the business community, we’re also going to be getting it from the government, that’s going to put a real pinch on what we can do.

“If there’s a 50 percent cut, you’re obviously going to have less opportunity for queer artists to express themselves and that’s a big loss for a community that’s already underserved in this category,” Gibson continues. “That’s a bigger loss for us.”

“If you look at the big picture, there’s not an adequate amount of queer stories being told in general so any time the government cuts funding to arts it’s just going to make it a little bit harder for any of us to continue telling our stories and reflecting our community,” agrees writer and Xtra West columnist Karen X Tulchinsky.

 “The arts and culture budget is miniscule in comparison to the size of the government budget, which is billions and billions of dollars. It’s a tiny, tiny line item which is getting a massive wallop to it,” says Herbert.