4 min

Gaming grant cuts hurt queer groups

Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir may not survive

'WE ARE SO SCREWED.' Liz Hughes, treasurer of the Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir, says the BC Liberals' decision to cut funding to arts and community groups may put the choir out of commission. 'We are coasting on savings.' Credit: Janet Rerecich photo

After weeks of uncertainty, funding freezes and partial thaws, the BC government is now saying it will restore gambling grants to some community and arts groups across the province.

While the latest announcement comes as good news for those organizations already promised three-year grants, many queer groups are still bracing for financial shortfalls and even potential bankruptcy.

“We are so screwed,” says Liz Hughes, treasurer of the Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir. “We are coasting on savings. This couldn’t happen at a worse time.”

The non-profit choir applied for $30,000 this year in Direct Access grants — proceeds of gambling given to thousands of BC charities — but received a rejection letter last week.

“I expected some cuts and a lot less than in the past but I wasn’t expecting to be shut out completely,” says Hughes.

Direct Access grants are generally distributed by the Ministry of Housing and Social Development in late spring. This year, however, some organizations were kept in the dark for months regarding the status of their applications after the BC Liberals called an impromptu review of the funds. Nearly 7,000 non-profit organizations province-wide were affected.

Late last month, in an attempt to slash $1.5 billion, the government sent rejection letters to most of the arts organizations awaiting the grants.

Last week the government flip-flopped, placing partial gaming funds for some of the groups in the hands of the BC Arts Council to disburse. But groups on three-year grants were told they would not be seeing any cash and would have to reapply for a single-year grant.

In yet another about-face, the government then announced Sep 2 that previously promised three-year grants would be honoured after all. This would be the last year, though, that such grants would be offered.

Of the nearly 7,000 organizations relying on gaming funds, only 530 were on three-year agreements.

The Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir isn’t among the multi-year recipients. Its rejection letter stands.

With 50 percent of its operating costs covered by annual gaming grants, the choir is uncertain it will survive the funding cut.

The choir has been receiving gaming grants for nearly a decade (with the exception of last year after in-house miscommunication halted the application process).

“Our existence is in jeopardy,” Hughes says.

“It does take the wind out of our sails a little bit,” echoes Drew Dennis, executive director of Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival. “We are definitely looking at a shortfall. It means we are going to have to take a serious look at things.”

The film festival has been receiving gaming grants since 1993.

Last year it received $22,000. This year it asked for $38,000 but was flat-out rejected, leaving a 10 percent shortfall in its budget.

Dennis says the Queer Film Festival is not in jeopardy but it will have to find innovative ways to recoup the money.

The government’s lack of consultation with arts organizations has been “quite disrespectful,” Dennis says. “They changed the rules in the middle of the process.”

Meanwhile, if the money does not come through for Pride in Art, that festival’s popular multimedia component may not survive.

Pride in Art may have to return to a visual-only art show next year, says director Shaira Holman.

The group is still waiting to hear if it qualified for a Direct Access grant this year.

“It is going to affect us really badly,” Holman says, if no funds are forthcoming. “The gaming grants went to paying staff.”

While much of Pride in Art is run by volunteers, Holman’s position as festival director is funded through grants.

Gay NDP MLA Spencer Herbert says he is outraged by the funding cuts. The arts budget has been slashed in half from last year, he says.

Next year, Herbert says the Liberals are planning to cut the arts budget by 90 percent. “There really is a credibility problem with this government,” he claims, adding it’s communities that are paying the price.

Herbert says the Liberals are planning to axe Direct Access grants for arts groups entirely next year and instead send all gaming funds for arts through the BC Arts Council.

But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing and Social Development says no official plans have been made regarding the distribution of Direct Access grants to arts organizations next year.

However, the spokesperson confirms that the government is considering giving the BC Arts Council sole responsibility for arts grants.

“Moving forward, the dual application process will be eliminated and replaced with one application to the BC Arts Council to ensure funding priorities are fairly applied and distributed,” he says.

That could be a problem for grassroots groups like the choir, Herbert predicts, because although many artists and organizations benefit from the Council, it is primarily geared towards professional artists so groups like the choir might get overlooked.

With a predicted 90 percent decline in next year’s overall arts budget, Herbert wonders what, if any, grants will be distributed through the Arts Council.

“The only priorities the Liberals seem to have for the arts and culture sector is to devastate it,” Herbert claims, adding that a lack of interest in the arts can have serious consequences on both the state of BC communities and the economy.

 “When cultural institutions take this kind of hit from the government, you see fewer people being heard and the cultural diversity of a community not being showcased,” he says.

Despite the government’s decision to now honour its existing three-year grants, the BC Association for Charitable Gaming (BCACG) says it will continue to seek legal counsel because the Liberals are still falling short of their promise to disburse one third of all gaming revenue to charitable organizations.

“We are nowhere near that [percentage],” asserts BCACG executive director Cheryl Ziola.

The Ministry of Housing and Social Development spokesperson could not say how many arts organizations were denied Direct Access grants this year, nor what the government is planning to do with the funds it withheld from those groups.