Many artists and groups are receiving word of even more severe BCAC program cuts than expected, in addition to the effective elimination of gaming grants to the arts sector. This will hurt all members of the sector badly, and some will sustain mortal wounds (the Western Edge Theatre in Nanaimo has cancelled their 2010/11 season and may fold). The BCAC and the Assembly of BC Arts Councils have both been forced into a devil's choice in circumstances with no good options.
In the case of the BCAC, the grant process was independent and juried, and our committee supports this process as the only fair option. We have confidence that the BCAC decisions represent the best possible outcome.
However, BCAC juries chose not to opt for equal cuts across the board, but made prioritizing decisions. This extremely difficult choice has led to a "have and have not" situation, which strains our unity at the moment when we need it most. There may be a perception that some groups have benefitted disproportionately, and so might be thought to be, um, happy, with the outcome.
This is an illusion. Nobody's happy.
I have been in communication with those representing organizations in rural areas and urban centres in every riding across the province; professional companies and community arts presenters; volunteer run organizations and those with paid professional staff and large budgets; children's, youth, and adult programmers; with arts donors and corporate sponsors. This issue cuts across all party lines and loyalties. This is not a Liberal vs. NDP, right vs. left matter. I have not personally spoken with a single Liberal party supporter within the entire arts sector (and there are many) who defends the government's actions. They too are frustrated, and many have enthusiastically supported our letter-writing campaigns and undertaken other private initiatives. Some of our strongest support has come quietly from within the Liberal party.
The cuts are grossly disproportionate to cuts in other sectors. The savings to taxpayers are negligible--less than .1% of the province's budget, The damage to beloved and popular cultural programming (which serves an audience of millions) is widespread and severe. The government's own Standing Committee on Finance unanimously sought the restoration of arts funding, only to have it cut even further.
Our community, irrespective of resources, background, or political persuasion, speaks with overwhelming consensus--with a single voice. It opposes the gaming cuts, cuts to the BCAC budget, and all other cuts to the arts sector. One thing is clear. This government has succeeded in doing something our sector has never achieved on its own: unite us behind a single objective: Restore Arts Funding Now.
As this latest round of cuts takes hold, it's vital that we resist any temptation to get angry at those organizations that have received higher awards: they did not create this mess and they cannot solve it. Everyone is doing their best to survive in a harsh environment. We will do better if we remain united. If we can be divided, we most certainly will fail.
We are coming together at last. The arts sector of the whole province is coming together, and we are extending our reach deep into every riding.
We will outline our plans for province-wide advocacy in the coming days.
Chair, Alliance Advocacy Committee