Fort St. John is still reeling from massive cuts to arts funding, and local groups want more of the $16-million provided to the BC Arts Council (BCAC) to support arts and culture throughout the province.
“Arts and culture help build healthy communities across British Columbia,” said Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
“Cultural activities support jobs, attract tourist revenue and create inclusive local events that promote community pride.”
The BCAC received $16,831,000 to distribute throughout the province and approved 1,027 grants to applicants from more than 200 communities throughout British Columbia.
Bettyanne Hampton, executive director of the North Peace Cultural Centre, said the cultural centre was not successful in attaining a grant from the BCAC last year, while the Fort St. John Arts Council said they’ve been getting the same funding for the past 20 years.
“The arts council gets funds through the BC Arts Council, but it's a formula and we only get $8,000 to $10,000 a year,” said Sue Popesku of the arts council.
She noted that much funding used to come from gaming grants.
Spencer Chandra Herbert was in Fort St. John yesterday morning.
He met with Popesku, Hampton and Lisa Bush, also of the Fort St. John Community Arts Council.
The NDP critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts said his mandate is to provide more consistent funding for the arts throughout the province.
“B.C. is last in per capita investment in the arts,” said Herbert. “I'd like to see us grow that.
“Exactly how much would depend on provincial revenues and the budget picture,” he continued.
“We've been going in the wrong direction cutting arts investment while other provinces have been increasing arts investment and attracting people from B.C.”
He explained that gaming grants were cut in 2009, “but impacts really hit in 2010.”
“They came in right before the Olympics,” said Herbert.
Popesku said she understands why funding was cut.
“They were looking everywhere they could to fund the Olympics,” she said.
She also pointed out that gaming grants didn't just impact the arts at the time. Since 2010, gaming grants have been piecemeal, she said.
“We cannot plan,” said Popesku. “That is so critical.
“Particularly, you need to plan a year in advance as to what you're doing next year, particularly with volunteers,” she said.
Herbert noted that gaming grants have decreased from $151-million to $135-million.
“Having the gaming grant funding is pretty crucial because it's the seed money, almost, as without that, you don't get those volunteers…who multiply the effect of that so much more,” he said.
“When you're having an economic boom, as this portion of the north seems to be, arts and culture has to be one of the things that keeps healthy communities, so investing in the arts through the BC Arts Council and through gaming hopefully should be able to grow in such a way that communities like this don't get squeezed out.”
He pointed out that it's not necessarily how much money is given to specific groups, but how consistent it is. He said he would like to see government return to multi-year agreements with arts groups.
“What I've found is that arts councils and small groups – even if you're not giving them (everything they want), if it's consistent, they can work with that,” said Herbert.
Yesterday's government press release explained that 1,027 grants from the BCAC were approved last year – including to writers, painters, playwrights, actors, musicians, composers, dancers and sculptors, in addition to arts councils, galleries and museums.
“Congratulations to British Columbia's amazing artists and outstanding cultural groups for everything they do to enrich the quality of life for families, citizens and communities in all regions of our province,” said Chong.
Herbert said this announcement is about the “Liberals trying to restore broken trust with the public.”
“They made the deepest cuts to arts and culture in B.C. history, now they're announcing funding that was already announced in February and hoping people are fooled into thinking it's new money,” he said. “It won't work and it's cynical and I think it's bad politics.”
While funding has been precarious for the past couple of years, Popesku said the community has stepped up to the plate.
“I think when we put out a fundraiser, we get responses from our people,” said Popesku. “There are people that are very dedicated to supporting the arts in this community.”