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BC Arts Cuts 'Devastating' Says Tory Minister

Arts funding a key form of economic stimulus: Heritage Minister Moore.

Charles Campbell 28 Sep

Charles Campbell is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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Heritage Minister James Moore: Heard complaints.

Cuts to arts funding by the BC Liberals are potentially "devastating" to some organizations, according to James Moore, minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. At a press conference Friday announcing new funding for the Vancouver International Film Festival, Moore also said supporting the arts during the economic downturn is a critical element in the federal government's economic stimulus program.

But after the press conference, the MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam stopped short of directly criticizing the provincial government, saying he respects other governments' jurisdictions. "My job isn't to beat up on Kevin Krueger," he said of B.C.'s minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts. "The province of British Columbia has made its own decisions and they will, politically, live with them."

According to the Canadian Conference of the Arts, B.C. is the only Canadian province to cut arts funding since the economic downturn began last year.

Minister told many arts groups may fold

Moore told The Tyee he is fully aware of the arts funding concerns in B.C., and met with Krueger during the week. While in Victoria, he also met with arts groups, and said some administrators told him longstanding organizations are at risk of folding because of 90-per cent cuts to their provincial funding. "That's devastating, and may not be recoverable."

Core B.C. provincial arts funding is slated to fall by more than 88 per cent over two years, from $19.5 million in 2008-'09 down to $2.25 million in 2010-'11, according to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture service plan.

The provincial funding, most of which comes through the B.C. Arts Council, is the operating cornerstone for many B.C. arts organizations, and allows them to leverage additional funding from other governments and private foundations.

When asked if cuts to provincial funding might limit federal funding for B.C. arts groups, Moore said his government is trying to compensate for funding that may be cut or absent in other Canadian jurisdictions.

He also said while the Canada Council operates at arm's length from government, its administrators are quite cognizant of the impact that the disappearance of provincial funding in B.C could have.

Cultural sector employs 650,000

During the film festival press conference, where Moore announced $467,250 in funding for this year's film festival from the Marquee Tourism Events Program, Moore made a forceful case that arts funding is an essential element in an economic stimulus program during difficult times. "This has to be a central component if we're going to deal with economic recovery," he said.

"There's a strong fiscally conservative argument for supporting the arts," Moore added, explaining that writers create things of social and economic value out of little more than their own knowledge and imagination. Moore said the cultural sector employs 650,000 people in Canada, twice the number employed in either forestry or agriculture, and he declared that infrastructure without the kind of activity that artists provide is "culturally and economically soulless."

Moore, whose Conservative government may have cost itself a majority in the last election as a result of arts-funding cuts and the statement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that ordinary people don't care about arts funding, trumpeted the Conservatives' support for the arts during its current term, stating that no government in Canadian history has spent so much on culture.

Two weeks to spend marketing money

The film-festival funding announced Friday comes from a $100 million Marquee Tourism Events Program, administered by the Ministry of Industry and geared to enhancing programming and promotion that attracts tourists, particularly international tourists.

The Vancouver International Film Festival, which begins Oct. 1, learned on Sept. 16 that it would receive the money, which must be spent to promote this year's event. Festival director Alan Franey addressed the concern that the funding announcement is less than timely in his prepared remarks. "We put this festival together in such a way that we would be able to take advantage of it should we be so lucky as to receive it."

The film festival, with a budget of about $2.4 million, has already been hit by provincial funding cuts. Its $70,000 gaming grant was axed, as the province increasingly diverts gambling earnings away from community groups and into general revenue. The festival had used that money for outreach to schools, multicultural groups and the underprivileged. While the festival received the usual $90,000 in operating assistance for 2009 from the B.C. Arts Council, it banked a $54,000 supplemental arts council grant for next year in anticipation of future provincial funding cuts.

The film festival is the fourth B.C. event to receive money from the Marquee Tourism fund -- the others were May's Cloverdale Rodeo ($345,900), June's Vancouver International Jazz Festival ($712,500) and August's Pacific National Exhibition ($1.38 million).

Other recipients include the Canadian National Exhibition ($3.75 million), the Toronto International Film Festival ($3 million), the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal ($3 million)and the Ottawa Bluesfest ($1.5 million). Nearly a million dollars ($965,000) went to the International Balloon Festival in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, a town with two hotels.

Pre-election spending?

In all, nearly $40 million has so far been disbursed to 50 groups, with 85 per cent of the funding going to events in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta.

When Moore was asked if his funding announcement could be characterized as pre-election spending, he said right now when he buys a cup of coffee in his own riding it's considered pre-election spending. "Everything can be considered pre-election spending in a minority parliament."  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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