Alliance for Arts and Culture Submission to BC's Select Standing Committee on Finance

 "Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

Canadian poet Gabrielle Roy (1909 – 1983) as quoted on the Canadian $20 bill.

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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The right to access arts and culture for British Columbians is at the heart of the principle of public funding for the non-profit arts and cultural sector.  There are many other reasons as well, that are economic, social, health, and education-related.  The fundamental and historical reason, however, for supporting arts and culture has been about democracy and identity.  The arms-length principle that has guided many western democratic liberal societies in their support of arts and culture was largely a response, after the Second World War, to the use of arts and culture to further the political agendas of oppressive regimes.  Values of freedom of expression, equal access, distinct identity, cultural diversity and community development are all invoked in the public interest argument for public support for the arts and culture.  Simon Brault has referred to this as the “democratization of culture”.

INTRODUCTION

Since 2001, the BC Liberal government, without doubt, has invested in the arts and cultural sector in significant ways.  For most of its mandate, it has prioritized arts and culture to a greater degree than other governments in BC’s history.  That investment has yielded a great deal; BC artists were proudly showcased at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 2009 and in 2010 we impressed the world and surprised ourselves with the Cultural Olympiad that led up to and was integrated into the Winter Games.  Additional provincial support for artists and for creation in the years leading to the Games resulted in world-class innovation and recognition, think of Vancouver Opera’s groundbreaking and original Nixon in China.  Our visual artists, including Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Stan Douglas, Bill Reid, and Robert Davidson are internationally recognized and celebrated.   Can we ever forget that moment of pride when BC artist Shane Koyczan recited his now-famous poem, We Are More, at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games? 

The current economic challenges facing the globe, however, seem to have dramatically changed the direction of the provincial government regarding funding for arts and culture.  Recent, deep cuts have had huge impact on many arts and cultural organizations and artists in this province, which endangers public access to arts and culture, local economies, quality of life and creativity.  We are missing opportunities to invest in an emerging world, where original content, innovation, knowledge and creativity are increasingly valued.

CONTEXT

The Alliance for Arts and Culture would like to gratefully acknowledge the recommendation of last year’s Standing Committee to restore arts funding to previous levels, including an appropriation directly to the BC Arts Council (BCAC).  The 2010/11 Budget indeed included an allocation to the BCAC, albeit much less than what was recommended.

The recent allocation of $7 Million to the BCAC helps tremendously; we urge this committee to recommend that the Arts and Culture Legacy Fund continue to be allocated to the BCAC over the next two years.  Better yet, we suggest that the Legacy fund be used to actually enhance a restored and stable appropriation for the Arts Council, rather than merely replacing its significantly eroded resources, as was done this year.

The restoration of funds to the Arts Council is only part of the story.  Even after restoring those funds this year, the considerable loss of arts and cultural investment (60%) that was previously available through the BC Gaming Commission has still meant an overall cut of over 30% to direct investment in arts and cultural activity in this province. 

A significant portion of gaming funds was originally meant for the purpose of community development, providing support to civil agencies such as arts organizations, museums, and sports groups.  This promise to support non-profit and charitable organizations was one of the ways that the government initially convinced British Columbians to “go along” with government-sponsored gaming.  The social contract with British Columbians regarding the expansion of gambling in this province should not be disregarded at the expense of civil society. 

The current criteria and priorities for Direct Access grants have been rewritten to exclude most arts and cultural organizations, community-based and professional, which previously were able to access these funds.  The impact of the recent Gaming cuts has had the most profound impact on access to arts and culture around this province.   Many community-based organizations and volunteer-run organizations as well as emerging and culturally diverse organizations are left without any support for their work as a result.  Hundreds of museums across this province have been supported solely through Gaming funds. 

All of the uncertainty and cuts has left the arts community reeling over the past number of months.  What our province needs is stable funding and a renewed vision and plan for arts and culture, including heritage.  For the past two years, for instance, BC Arts Council funding through a committed appropriation has been cut significantly and then “restored” later in the year, first through supplementary funds, then through reallocated Gaming funds (robbing Peter to pay Paul).  The uncertainty and instability caused for the BC Arts Council and the arts community has made it almost impossible for either to plan forward or fulfill their mandates.  We recommend that a stable and sufficient appropriation be allocated to the BCAC in the upcoming provincial budget that is at least $16 Million.  This would provide the BCAC with resources that are equivalent to those provided this year, including the $7 Million in Legacy funds.

Continued ...

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