B.C. ARTS: A CULTURAL CASH CRUNCH
Visual artists in British Columbia won’t know until after the Olympics what the state of arts support will be in the province’s near future, but reductions in government funding, and rumours of further cuts to the BC Arts Council budget, have left arts groups reeling.
BY Heather Ramsay
The 2010 Cultural Olympiad funding is the only reason the Or can offer a show in February, she says. The exhibition, Ginger Goodwin Way, will feature dance, sculpture and other contemporary art practices exploring the idea of contested histories. The works, by several different artists, are inspired by a piece of Vancouver Island highway named after a miner whose killing in 1918 sparked B.C.’s first general strike. A commemorative sign was erected in his honour on Vancouver Island in 1996, but it was quietly removed when the BC Liberals took power in 2001.
Brown hopes the exhibition, an exploration of official and unofficial narratives, will create a space to talk about funding levels. The province’s visual artists and arts organizations already scrape by with some of the lowest funding levels in Canada — a sad situation considering European curators are buzzing about the high-level conceptual art coming out of the province, she says. Artists like Stan Douglas, Brian Jungen, Geoffrey Farmer and Mwfanwy MacLeod have had some of their first shows in galleries like the Or, and their groundbreaking work has brought international attention to B.C. “These people were forged in the public sector art movement,” Brown says.
Spencer Herbert, NDP MLA and culture critic maintains that the government’s own documents reveal that a dollar spent in arts funding brings $1.05 to $1.36 back to the province’s coffers in taxes. The arts and culture sector in B.C. also generates 80,000 jobs and $5.2 billion annually.
Two different pots of provincial money provide essential operating funds for arts organizations — gaming funds through the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, and arts grants through the B.C. Arts Council. In 2008/09 $18 million in gaming grants went to 840 arts organizations throughout the province and in 09/10 only $8.9 million went to 350 groups. B.C. Arts Council spokesperson Chris Gudgeon says they were able to maintain their funding levels (at around $18 million) this year by counting supplemental funds given out last year. Clients had been told to save that money for 2009/2010, but, he admitted, the 2010/2011 budget is still up in the air.
Jennifer Pickering, director of Kelowna’s Alternator Gallery, says the public may not understand the cuts. “This isn’t special project funding,” she says. “This is how we pay our phone bills, staff and rent.” The Alternator, which also offers media arts space, workshops and residencies, is in a better position than most — their multi-year gaming funding was restored in August after a huge outcry from across the province saw the government reverse some of the original cuts. But she doesn’t know what the facility, now housed in the Kelowna Arts Centre, will look like in two years. “Maybe we’ll be back to meeting in people’s basements,” she says.
Pickering is also worried about losing locally-based artists to larger cities. The Alternator, which puts on solo shows essential to career development for emerging artists, has already had to scale back. “There is so much demand to provide so many things,” she says. But without secure cultural funding, not even she, originally from Vernon, will be able to continue living and working in the B.C. Interior.