Queer writers and publishers are joining with others in their industry to protest targeted cuts announced Oct 6.
All funding was cut from three cornerstone organizations in the province’s publishing industry. The Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia lost $45,000, BC Bookworld newspaper lost $31,000 and BC Association of Magazine Publishers lost $20,000. Each organization is said to have heard about the cuts via phone calls from Andrea Henning, executive director of the arts and culture branch of the ministry of tourism, culture and the arts.
The cuts have left the province’s literary world reeling as it prepares to welcome internationally known writers to the Vancouver International Writers Festival later this month.
And they have drawn the ire of world famous BC writers such as Douglas Coupland and William Gibson.
“As a futurist, someone with some experience in long-range scenario-based corporate and municipal planning, I’ve seen my share of jaw-droppingly shortsighted proposals,” says Gibson. “But these proposed cuts to support for the arts in BC really take the cake.
“This is governance guaranteed to rot the fabric of our province’s future,” he says.
Queer author Ivan E Coyote says the cuts to BC Book World and the magazine association means she can’t publicize her work.
And, if that doesn’t happen, she doesn’t sell books, then booksellers and publishers don’t make money and the federal and provincial governments don’t collect taxes.
“It’s just chipping away at the whole infrastructure,” Coyote says. “It’s a dismal time.”
Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press is Canada’s pre-eminent publisher of queer writing. It, too, is facing grant cuts.
Publisher Brian Lam says the cuts are a direct threat not only to existing queer voices but also to emerging ones.
He says Coyote came to Arsenal as an unknown and is now lauded across North America for her work. “That is the kind of thing that is threatened,” Lam says. “It’s going to make (queer voices) not as widely heard as it has in past years.”
BC’s beleaguered literary organizations are forming the Coalition for the Defence of Writing and Publishing in British Columbia.
“Thus far they have chopped off three heads,” says Alan Twigg, publisher of BC Bookworld for 21 years, “but indications are that more heads will roll.”
The 50-member Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, founded in 1974, is the largest regional affiliate of the Association of Canadian Publishers. As the hub of a remarkably diverse publishing industry of mostly small firms, it undertakes extensive business, marketing, promotion and awareness programs such as Resource Tools for Educators, BC Books for Schools, a catalogue for Canadian Aboriginal Books for Schools and BC Books on BC Ferries.
“Our B.C. publishers are reeling,” says ABBPBC executive director Margaret Reynolds. “It is an absolutely bizarre decision. Governments across the country, federal and provincial, recognize the importance of culture to the lives of their citizens. Why invest in this infrastructure then unceremoniously withdraw it?”
BC Bookworld, around since 1987, is distributed via more than 900 outlets around the province on a quarterly basis, reaching approximately 100,000 readers per issue. It has been identified by the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing—in a report commissioned by the BC government—as “the most important cog in the infrastructure” that supports writing and publishing in BC.
“BC Bookworld generates 70 percent of its own revenues,” says Twigg, “So Arts & Culture [branch] has chosen to sabotage something literary that is genuinely popular, public-serving, non-elitist and educational. It boggles the mind. We’re the focal point for all BC books and authors.” Twigg got a brief phone call less than a month before his non-profit society was scheduled to renew its 21-year partnership with the provincial government.
Since 1993, the BC Association of Magazine Publishers (BCAMP) has represented the BC magazine industry by supporting the talent, knowledge and skills of its publishers. One million people around the world read the 82 member magazines, which include arts and culture, news, business, lifestyle, leisure and special interest magazines.
“We know there is a recession, and perhaps cuts can be expected,” says Rhona MacInnes, BCAMP executive director, “but 100 percent is shocking. By the province’s own reckoning, the arts sector offers a healthy return on investment, so there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way this government assesses value. Sadly, these draconian measures are just the beginning. We’ve all been given notice to expect severe cuts to the BC Arts Council.”
Some sectors of the literary economy have already been hurt.
“Essentially the BC government saw they had a deficit,” says Bryan Pike, executive director of the BC Book Prizes, “and we didn’t have any. So they decided to give us some of theirs! They are off-loading debt onto charitable organizations.”
Although British Columbia has one of the highest book reading rates per capita in North America, per-capita support for the literary arts from Victoria has always fallen far short of standards set by Ontario and Quebec. “More cuts to the literary community will be devastating,” says Carla Reimer, executive director of the Federation of BC Writers, one of the largest writing organizations in Canada with over 700 members.
The literary community is aghast at total withdrawal of funding from three of its integral organizations. “The recent cuts to these organizations are a blow to the entire literary community,” says Hal Wake, director of the Vancouver International Writers Festival. “Our festival is about to welcome almost 100 writers from around the world and it is extremely unfortunate that they will arrive at a time of crisis for so many cultural organizations.”
Brad Cran, Poet Laureate for the City of Vancouver, concurs: “Artists and cultural institutions work on already tight budgets, stretching each dollar as far as possible,” he says “often with a volunteer workforce and underpaid staffers. Now we’re not talking about minor cuts: we’re talking about devastating cuts.
“The fact that this is happening on the eve of the Olympics (with culture as one of the pillars of the Olympic bid) is an added insult and a broken promise to British Columbians.”
It took decades for the province to generate stability for the ABPBC, BC Bookworld and BCAMP. The Coalition for the Defence of Writing and Publishing in British Columbia will be calling for the reinstatement of funding to these three vital organizations—and an end to the anticipated bloodletting that lies ahead.
For more info, check out stopbcartscuts.ca.
Premier Gordon Campbell
MLA: Hon Kevin Krueger (Min of Tourism, Arts, and Culture)
MLA: Hon Rich Coleman (Gaming)
MLA: Hon. Colin Hansen (Min of Finance)