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BC gov’t introduces new Legacy funding program

Arts critics fear grant process will be politicized and commercialized

In last week’s provincial budget, the government introduced a new arts and sports funding program that some critics say could politicize and commercialize the grant process.

During his Mar 2 budget presentation to the BC legislature, finance minister Colin Hansen introduced a 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy to provide $60 million for arts and sport activities over the next three years. Half of this funding will be allocated to youth sports and improved athlete and coach development, while the remainder will be spent on the arts.

Hansen said his government plans to capitalize on the momentum of hosting the Olympics.

But Out on Screen executive director Drew Dennis is concerned about how the allocation of these funds will affect queer arts organizations. Dennis is especially concerned with the program’s proposal to develop new art and cultural ideas to generate economic benefits and nurture ideas that could become commercialized.

“When you see words like ‘commercializing art,’ that raises a red flag,” says Dennis, adding, “it raises concerns about artistic integrity.

“Hopefully this doesn’t mean the government only places value on certain types of art other than what our groundbreaking, edgy artists across the province produce,” Dennis continues.

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert shares Dennis’ concern about the potential commercialization of art and its impact on queer arts organizations.

“[Profit] has never been the purpose of the BC Arts Council or groups who receive gaming money,” he says.

Moreover, he adds, work in the queer community challenges people to address their assumptions, grow together and learn together. “Once in a while you have a Brokeback Mountain that turns into a huge commercial success, but that’s not the primary purpose,” Herbert notes.

There is no word yet about how the Legacy monies will be disbursed. A backgrounder on the fund says the programs are still under development and eligibility criteria will be finalized in the coming weeks.

Herbert worries that the administration and distribution of the Legacy Fund may become a politicized process.

He says he’s uncertain whether the Legacy Fund will be subject to a peer review process like the one that governs BC Arts Council grants and is concerned that disbursements from the new government fund will not be made impartially.

“The province is committed to supporting the creative economy,” says a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, “including the development of professional artists and art organizations and the development of new work.”

Herbert says the Legacy fund is not new money and the government has failed to rectify last year’s cuts to arts and culture organizations.

“I guess they’ve spun a story making it look like there’s an increase in arts funding, claiming there is new money, but in fact they’ve given a small amount with one hand and taken a large amount with another,” Herbert contends.

“What I’ve been able to see in the budget so far is, it looks like a 50 percent cut to the arts, gaming and the BC Arts Council,” he estimates, not the 90 percent cut the Liberals threatened, Herbert acknowledges.

But a 50 percent cut is still devastating, he maintains.

Queer arts organizations were hoping the government would restore funding to 2007/2008 levels.

“Many arts groups such as Out on Screen lost gaming funding in 2009,” Dennis says.

“Late in the game, they pulled the carpets from under us, and now what’s happened is we’ve been approved for our BC Arts Council grants for 2010, but the grant is being funnelled through the gaming program,” Dennis explains.

“It raises questions as to what the intent is from the government and how existing artistic partners will be part of the government moving forward with arts and culture investment.”

The ministry’s spokesperson says the government’s budget has increased arts funding.

“In 2009/10, during the global economic crisis, total provincial funding for the arts was $42 million. This year, with the new 2010 Legacy, the province is providing over $46 million in funding for arts and culture,” the spokesperson maintains.

“Arts organizations are comparing this year’s funding to 2008/09 — a year when the province was experiencing a totally different economic reality — a surplus,” the spokesperson adds. “This increase in funding year over  +year shows that the province is committed to supporting the arts.”

But Pride in Art Society director Seán Cummings remains unconvinced.

“Everybody’s been cut,” he says.

“We had some great productions last year, but are we going to continue at that rate? Are we going to continue pushing those boundaries?” he wonders.

It’s up to everyone — not just artists — to stand up for arts funding, Cummings says.

“The arts community has been trying to speak out and it has had no effect,” he adds.

“The public is going to have to put their foot down and stop their government from doing this, or it’s going to continue,” Cummings concludes.