Queer arts groups are applauding the decision by BC Arts Council chairperson Jane Danzo to resign in protest over provincial government cuts to arts funding.
Danzo cites a “real lack of arms-length relationship with the government” as evidence that the council board does not “have a voice independent of government.”
In her resignation letter, Danzo says the council had recommended a return to 2008/2009 funding levels to the government’s Committee on Finance and Governmental Services when considering 2010 arts disbursements.
Danzo says the committee accepted the submission, which was later rejected by the Liberal government in the March budget.
“The devastating impact of that decision is now being felt by artists and arts organizations throughout the province as they receive notification of substantial cuts to their core funding,” Danzo wrote to Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger.
According to a government release, the council is an independent agency that supports a range of activities, including funding for professional artists and arts organizations, community initiatives and public education.
In the last budget, the provincial government reduced council funding by almost 50 percent, cutting its distribution amount to BC arts groups from about $14 million to $7.9 million.
The arts community was also slammed with cuts to gaming grants, leaving many groups wondering if they would have to close their doors.
NDP arts and culture critic Spencer Chandra Herbert has often said that by the government’s own estimates, each dollar it invests in the arts sector generates a return of $1.36.
BC’s Alliance for Arts and Culture executive director Amir Ali Alibhai congratulated Danzo on her decision.
He says BC’s arts community is in crisis.
“Some arts organizations that have recently seen large funding cuts are afraid to speak out for fear of losing further funding opportunities,” Alibhai says.
In the wake of the cuts, the provincial government suddenly introduced the 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy, providing $60 million for arts and sport activities over the next three years. Half will be allocated to youth sports and improved athlete and coach development; the remainder will be spent on the arts.
Danzo, however, said there was no council consultation by the government on the new legacy fund.
“All these and other factors led to my conviction that I had to step down in order to effectively speak up,” says Danzo, who was appointed to the 15-member council four years ago.
Out On Screen’s executive director Drew Dennis calls Danzo’s resignation and speaking out “courageous.”
Out On Screen puts on Vancouver’s annual queer film festival, now in its 22nd year.
Dennis, too, says the government has not listened to those it has appointed to consult on arts funding.
“I hope the provincial government got the message,” Dennis says.
BC is in danger of losing its artists as they move elsewhere to find work, which is drying up here due to the cuts, Dennis says.
“The province is becoming a dull place to live,” Dennis adds.
Screaming Weenie Productions artistic director Seçn Cummings says the resignation is “the first glimmer of hope” he’s seen in some time.
He hopes it might actually resonate with both the government and the general public.
“This is the first sign of any significant protest,” he says.
“To have her resign and come out and say why might get noticed by people.”