Bill Horne's letter to the BC Standing Committee on Finance

Dear Finance Committee Members:

I am writing as an artist and small business owner with 15 years’ experience in small town BC. I am also a Director of our Local Chamber of Commerce and the Vice-President of CARFAC BC, the provincial affiliate of Canadian Artists’ Representation/le front des artistes canadiens.

The two main things I would like you to consider are the restoration of all Gaming monies to the non-profit sector, without any strings attached, and a tripling of the province’s investment in the cultural sector.

The seasonal tourism economy in the north central interior is fragile enough as it is, especially in the wake of the recession, the pine beetle epidemic and this summer’s forest fires. I know that the gallery my wife and I operate brought in just 60% of the sales we had in 2009, and we are doing better than many people.

The decline in tourist numbers and sales makes us acutely aware of the impact of things like drastic cuts to the arts budget, the dissolution of Tourism BC, the siphoning of Gaming monies from non-profits, the unpredictable and unstable application of policy and funding in the arts sector, and the introduction of the HST.

Those of us who operate businesses in small communities are dependent on each other’s successes for our individual survival.Although it might be simpler to process HST remittances for our own particular business, its negative effect on local restaurants is causing less of their customers to circulate or stay in our town. The effect on outdoor tourism operators is another negative that will impact us, too.

My wife and I moved to Wells in part because of the existence of Island Mountain Arts, a non-profit which has been offering arts programs and operating a gallery for over 30years. In recent years it has also organized the Arts Wells Festival.

There is no question of its significant role in the culture and economy of our region. The relatively small investments of public funding this organization has received have a ripple effect that is estimated to bring $500K each summer to the north Cariboo, and easily twice that when the Festival is included.

When the government cuts arts funding, changes gaming fund rules, changes them again, changes rules retroactively, it wreaks havoc in the arts sector. It makes it extremely difficult for volunteer boards and staff to carry out a sound business plan. It creates uncertainty among businesses such as ours, as well as accommodations and restaurants, and it weakens our already fragile market.

Imagine the outcry from industry if the government were to slash funding to the school of forestry at UBC, or from mining if geology programs were cut. From this point of view, I believe that the reckless, disproportionate cuts to the arts — without consultation with the sector’s stakeholders — has threatened to undermine the potential of our province’s creative economy. And because the arts are not as separate from the majority of British Columbians as the government may like to think, these ill-advised policies are undermining other parts of our economy as well.

Last fall I began creating a series of portraits of people in various trades and occupations who support a strong arts sector. Their participation and enthusiasm underlines our connectivity and contradicts the myth that the arts are elitist and somehow separate. The response to my online “Solidarity Series” has been very positive, both from artists and from non-artists. I hope you enjoy the samples in the attached PDF. The complete text can be found at www.claireart.ca.

Bill Horne
Wells, BC

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