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Liberals cut more arts funding

Eligibility criteria quietly tightened again

The BC Liberals have quietly moved the arts-funding goalposts again, leaving more film and fringe theatre festivals ineligible for gaming grants.

Having slashed the grants without warning last year, the government added new funding restrictions in March that will affect thousands more community groups.

Environmental groups and adult-oriented arts, culture and sports organizations will all be affected.

The latest restrictions have left groups such as Out On Screen, which produces Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival, scratching their heads and wondering what’s next.

But details are scant and BC’s minister of housing and social development didn’t grant Xtra‘s request for an interview.

Rich Coleman did, however, tell the Victoria Times-Colonist that it isn’t the role of government to decide if a festival is commercially viable by subsidizing it.

“When we started doing these changes, it was very obvious there were some festivals that had been running for 25 years, and they were saying if they couldn’t get a $10,000 grant they wouldn’t be able to survive for a year,” he was quoted as saying.

It is “deeply misguided” to believe that professional exhibitions and performances can be mounted strictly on a free enterprise model, counters the chair of BC’s Alliance for Arts and Culture, Sandra Garossino.

“If this were the case, none of the world’s greatest museums or professional companies would exist today — the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bolshoi Ballet, La Scala Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the British Museum — not one of these pillars of modern civilization could survive without considerable government investment.”

Garossino says those institutions continue to exist because of visionary leadership.

“They understood that a nation’s greatest prize is its heart, and that belongs to all the people, not just the rich and powerful,” she says.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen’s March budget stunned thousands of BC non-profit and charities which had still hoped to benefit from $120 million in gaming grants.

The same budget saw the introduction of a post-Olympic 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy, which provides $60 million for arts and sport activities over the next three years.

Half of that funding was to be allocated to youth sports and improved athlete and coach development, with the remainder to be spent on the arts.

Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says he only discovered that the definition of community celebration had changed by calling BC’s gaming policy and enforcement branch.

Chandra Herbert says a gaming branch official told him fringe festivals, dance festivals, film festivals, writers festivals and music festivals are now largely ineligible for gaming grants.

“I said, ‘Excuse me, those are not community cultural events that reach wide audiences?” Chandra Herbert says.

When he asked if he could have a copy of the criteria, the MLA was told that’s not possible.

“The orders from higher up were they were not allowed to release it,” he says. “They could only talk over the phone.”

As far as he can tell, fall fairs and exhibitions, arts and music festivals and museums operated by non-profit societies are still eligible for funding under the newly tightened criteria, he says.

In fact, he notes, there seems to be a shift in focus to agricultural-based events such as “cowboy days and fall fairs,” and a shift away from cities.

Also spared for now are programs for youth — but only if youth are actually involved in staging the performance; merely spectating is not enough.

That worries Out On Screen’s executive director Drew Dennis. After last year’s cuts, Dennis says the society didn’t bother asking for direct-access gaming grants of about $16,000 this year.

Instead, Dennis says, the society emphasized its youth programming and sought $10,000 for Out In Schools compared to its usual $6,000.

“Out In Schools is continually growing and evolving,” Dennis explains, “so for us to recognize that growth and ask for a bit more made sense to us.”

Dennis says they’re not expecting a response on the Out In Schools funding request until August.

What these rounds of cuts really mean is that community arts organizations have to look to their supporters for funding, Dennis says. “It’s a huge hit to festivals. I think the impact on the arts sector is going to be significant.”