The Globe and Mail

This article was posted on the Globe and Mail's website today at 5:05pm EDT:

Arts groups want B.C. minister to feel their pain

By Fiona Morrow, Vancouver

British Columbia's arts community is in a state of shock following comments made by the Minister for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, Kevin Krueger, that the community is not concerned about the provincial government's projected 50-per-cent cuts to funding.

"I am not hearing complaints at all from the arts and cultural community," Kreuger said on Victoria-based radio station C-FAX's Eye on the Arts show earlier this month. "I don't think anyone is lighting their hair on fire at what is coming down the pipe."

In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, the minister stood behind those comments - adding that he tends to "answer questions very frankly," and suggesting that the arts community should know enough to "trust that we're not about to change our principles."

The minister's initial comments "went viral immediately," says Howard Jang, general manager of Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre Company. Following the radio interview, the board chairs and executive directors of the seven major arts organizations in the province - the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Art Gallery, Playhouse Theatre, Arts Club, Ballet B.C., and Bard on the Beach - sent a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell outlining exactly their fears for the future of the arts in British Columbia.

The same day, a grassroots letter-writing campaign was launched via a Facebook group that numbered 200 members by sundown - and had reached more than 530 by yesterday. Krueger said in recent interview that his office was responding to all of the letters that had been generated since the radio spot, remarking that he found it "comical" that mail was arriving from as far away as Texas.

In the Feb. 17 budget, general arts-and-culture funding was reduced from $19.5-million to $11.9-million. And, as part of the Liberal government's three-year budget projection, funding would be further reduced to $9.6-million in 2010-11 before rebounding slightly to $9.8-million in 2011-12. To ease the pain this year, a one-off supplementary fund was announced that is expected to maintain previous levels of funding for the 2009-10 fiscal period, but with no guarantee that extra money will be there going forward.

Jang says Krueger's statement was bewildering: "His predecessor, Bill Bennett, had asked the community to write and tell him what these cuts would mean to their organizations, and there was a considerable amount of communication sent in. Where has that all gone?" If the Arts Club were to lose half of its funding, it would have to look at cutting back its core programming, Jang adds. "A cut of that size is really significant. We would have to take a very hard look at our provincial touring program, for example."

At the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, president and CEO Jeff Alexander points out that funding of the arts has been proven to create a stimulus effect through employment and through purchases from for-profit companies. Alexander says that any cuts would prove to be "anti-stimulus." According to the ministry's own research, for every $1 invested in the arts, the province gets back $1.38.

Nevertheless, Alexander says, he wasn't surprised that the minister hadn't picked up on the community's concerns. "We typically spend our time expressing gratitude for the funds we receive," he says, rather than angling to get the government to notice criticism. "The arts community very much appreciates the support the government provides, and we are always conscious of thanking them for what they've done in the past."

But Scott Walker, host of Eye on the Arts , the radio show on which Krueger made his initial comments, says he was stunned by the minister's response. "I see palpable fear in the province's arts community," he said by phone from his office in Victoria at the advocacy group ProArt Alliance, where he is on staff. "I don't know who he is getting his information from, but I know that my [ProArt Alliance] colleagues have made it quite clear in discussions with the minister that they are really worried about the next two years."

During the radio interview, Krueger suggested that the economics of the time require everyone to "bite the bullet" and "square our shoulders," before quoting from the Bible, Matthew 6:34, to drive his point home: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

"I had to look that up after the show," acknowledges Walker. "I think he's telling us not to worry about tomorrow - there's enough to worry about today."

Asked what he meant by the biblical reference, the minister told The Globe and Mail: "They should give the government some credit for what we've been able to do up to this year - and this year too, considering the difficulties - and trust that we're not about to change our principles or our way of doing things."

The Vancouver-based Alliance for Arts and Culture, which represents 350 member organizations from across the artistic disciplines, has spearheaded the mounting opposition to the cuts. Its requests to meet with the minister have not been granted.

"We have yet to receive a response," a spokesperson told The Globe.

"We have had no request for a meeting with them," insists Krueger. "If they ask for a meeting, they will get one." He adds that he is eager to have constructive dialogue with the community. "If they have an idea of how things were done better in the past, I'd really like to hear that, instead of pro-forma letters that are just critical and demonstrate outrage that isn't based on knowledge."

The Alliance is very pleased that Minister Krueger is open to a meeting, and we will inviting someone to follow up on his invitation as soon as possible. As was stated in the Globe, our previous requests have not received a response, and our invitation for the Minister to participate in the Vancouver Arts Summit was declined. We will keep everyone appraised of the situation as it develops. We would like to thank everyone who has participated in this advocacy effort for their time and patience.

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