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Federal government cuts Queer Arts Festival funding

Canadian Heritage says queer fest no longer meets its sponsorship criteria

"We've had three years of funding from them and there was no indication of the cuts," says Queer Arts Festival artistic director Shaira (SD) Holman (right, with curator Paul Wong). Credit: QAF/Mike Nahali photo

Just three months before this year’s Queer Arts Festival (QAF) opens in Vancouver, organizers are being forced to reassess programming and ticket prices after the federal government suddenly announced it has rescinded its support.

“We’re blown away! We’re devastated! We’re really surprised by the cuts. It came completely out of the blue,” says QAF artistic director Shaira (SD) Holman.

“We’ve had three years of funding from them and there was no indication of the cuts,” she says.

Holman says the Pride in Art Society [PiA], which produces QAF, received a letter two weeks ago from the Department of Canadian Heritage saying it would no longer fund the festival.

When asked to explain the sudden reversal, Canadian Heritage representatives declined to give any details and insisted there were no specific areas of concern, according to Holman.

Despite Xtra’s repeated calls and emails, no one from Canadian Heritage was available for an interview.

In its letter to PiA, Canadian Heritage says it rescinded funding for the Queer Arts Festival because it no longer fit the sponsorship criteria to deliver “measurable and tangible results, to optimize available funds, and to meet the needs of Canadians.”

Holman doesn’t buy it.

“We sent in a report and had put together a really strong proposal,” she says, adding the proposal was sent by deadline.

“They’re being pretty closed-mouthed about the whole thing,” Holman says.

According to PiA, Canadian Heritage has funded QAF every year since 2010, with support growing 10 percent annually. By 2012, the $44,000 federal grant constituted almost half of the organization’s government funding and 17 percent of its total budget.

“It was the single largest chunk of money,” Holman says.

QAF receives support from all levels of government, Holman says, including the Canada Council, the BC Arts Council, BC Gaming and the City of Vancouver.

“Every single other level of government has given us positive feedback,” she notes.

“The Assessment Committee considered the programming to be of high artistic merit, demonstrated by a strong curatorial vision in its presentation and through its recent efforts in commissioning new work,” reads QAF’s 2013 grant assessment from the City of Vancouver.

“They noted a capable and committed staff and board team that was well-organized with good planning practices in place,” the assessment continues. “The committee also recognized strong community support through its numerous volunteers and partnerships, as well as having strong community impact through its accessibility and outreach to queer youth.”

Asked how much QAF receives annually from the city, Holman declined to say, only saying that “the city has given us as much as they can.”

“[But] we’re still in a deficit,” she says.

QAF is BC’s only multidisciplinary celebration of queer arts, dedicated to showcasing a variety of visual and performing artists who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited and intersex. The three-week festival is held at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver every summer, timed to complement the city’s Pride celebrations.

“Festivals like this are very important to our economy, but they are also important for our society,” says Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver-West End. “‘How do we get to know each other as people if we can’t see each other through the arts?”

Chandra Herbert won’t speculate about the federal government’s decision to stop funding QAF but says funding decisions should not be politically driven.

Holman says the 2013 festival is not in jeopardy, but the sudden funding loss may affect programming and ticket prices.

“We want to make it affordable to the community to come,” Holman stresses.

“We’re trying not to slash programming, but we may have to,” she adds.

Since receiving the letter, Holman says, PiA asked to meet with the minister of Canadian heritage and official languages, James Moore, to discuss the decision, but, she says, those requests were initially denied.

On May 1, the same day PiA issued a press release announcing the funding cut, Holman says, the minister contacted her to say he would be “revisiting” the proposal.

As of May 2, Holman says she has not received further information from Canadian Heritage.