Arts Cuts

"That move to Montreal is starting to look more appealing, Saskatoon isn't looking too bad either"

On Sept. 9, over 400 people assembled in the rain on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) to protest the B.C. provincial cuts to arts funding. Speakers included Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance for Arts, Spencer Herbert, culture critic for the NDP, artists, administrators and patrons.

The B.C. government slashed next year’s B.C. Arts Council budget by 40 per cent, but the recent cuts to gaming grants, which are raised through lottery and gambling revenue to support arts, culture and other community groups, have been even more shocking. Late spring, arts organizations learned in the middle of their budget year that their usual gaming grant applications were frozen. In August, most received a letter stating they would not be receiving their funding this year. After public outcry, on Sept. 2 the government announced they would honour the multi-year gaming contracts, leading the public to believe that arts funding had been reinstated, but this is only a portion of the funding that was cut.

Alibhai stated this in his speech from the stairs of the VAG, “A lot of people think ‘Oh, everything’s OK, money’s been put back in, contingencies funds were found for gaming’—that’s not true. That’s absolutely not true. Total support for arts and culture organizations in B.C., from 2008 to 2012, including all sources, is going down 85 to 92 per cent. No other province in Canada has reduced support for the arts sector.”

These cuts will have a huge impact on B.C.’s economy. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Service Plan Update states that B.C. employs 78,000 people in arts and culture, with an economic benefit of $5.2 billion. “Of Canada’s ten provinces, B.C. has the largest percentage of its labour force in arts occupations,” commented Alibhai. With large cuts to the funding that pays this labour force we may see a migration of our arts and culture workers to climates friendlier to their profession.

Donna Spencer, artistic producer with the Firehall Arts Centre, spoke to the impact of losing gaming funding. The Firehall used to receive $74,000 annually from gaming. They were gearing to up to make drastic cuts mid-season when they heard that the government would honour their three-year contract. “Originally, we thought we’d be either losing a position or losing a show … 1.5 positions. An organization our size can’t afford to downsize the staff, because we have to run a building and a series.” However, the Firehall will be making cuts to their operating budget next year, knowing that the gaming money will be disappearing when their contract expires.

The Vancouver Folk Music Festival was not so lucky this year. Without a multi-year contract, the festival will no longer be receiving $90,000, which it had expected and planned for. The festival received notification that the granting funds were frozen in June—heading right into the festival, with no time for contingency planning. In August, post-festival, artistic director Linda Tanaka learned that the funding was cut. “To start, we’re not able to keep on staff that we hoped to keep on. Next year there will be at least $115,000 cut in funding … now we’re cut back again.”

Gaming grants support community organizations including arts and culture, sport, environmental, social services, public safety and parental advisory councils. Gaming funds have supported such diverse groups as the Vancouver Association for the Survivors of Torture, the Centre for Not-for-Profit Sustainability, the B.C. SPCA, the Vancouver Aids Society, the Stanley Park Lawn Bowling Club and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

According to the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch website, in 2008/09, $156.3 million dollars of provincial gambling revenues were distributed to community organizations—800 of them in Vancouver.

Gaming funding has been consistent for many community organizations, and this consistency has caused many organizations to rely on the funding. In 2002/03, $162 million in gaming grants were distributed to community organizations, with similar funding given out every year until now. Many community organizations have received the same grant amount for years, allowing them to leverage that money with other funders. Certain grants require funding from other sources—if gaming money is secured, other funders will come on board. This fiscal year, only $53 million will be dispersed as grant money throughout the province of B.C., one third of the funds available in previous years. According to Rich Coleman, the Minister of Housing and Social Development, this money will be given to priority organizations, including health, social services, public safety, “a limited number of arts and culture activities” and organizations with written multi-year contracts. Only 540 of 4,998 provincial recipients of gaming funds had multi-year contracts.

“Lotteries is the gift that allows organizations such as ours to actually exist. It gives us the momentum and support in the early stages of our development and in our lead up to be able to generate revenue and allows us then to deliver programs to a larger audience,” said Barrie Mowatt, president and founder of the Vancouver International Biennale. The Vancouver Biennale is a two-year event exhibiting 33 major sculpture installations in public spaces around Vancouver, particularly in and around Stanley Park.

Although Mowatt’s organization had a multi-year grant and did receive the funds promised, he spoke to those who were unlucky. “It’s a travesty for those smaller organizations who didn’t have multi-year funding who are dependent on the few dollars they get to operate. For those of us with a larger budget and bigger demands, those multi-year grants were essential since the staffing and programming plans were based on a long-term commitment.”

There are many arguments to support the arts, both esoteric and economic. On a purely economic level, the arts provide incredible benefit. Firstly, the provincial government itself figures that every dollar spent on arts and culture brings in between $1.05 to $1.35 in tax revenue. According to another report entitled, “Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy” published by Canadian Heritage and the Conference Board of Canada, the culture sector accounts for 7.4 per cent of Canada’s GDP, with a footprint of $84.6 billion dollars in 2007. In contrast, arts spending from all levels of government totalled $7.9 billion. The arts and cultural sector employs more people than the auto industry in Canada (according to Hill Strategies Research Inc.), and artists typically earn salaries half the size of other Canadians. In addition, in 2002, the value of volunteer time donated to arts and culture was valued at $3.6 billion (says Statistics Canada in the “Satellite Account of Nonprofit Institutions and Volunteering: 1997 to 2004.” So, not only does the arts and culture sector provide incredible economic benefit, but at half the cost of any other industry.

Mowatt doesn’t understand how governments ignore their own research. “What’s interesting for us is that when cuts are made at government levels, it appears that the arts are most frequently hammered the strongest, when it’s the arts that generate the largest return per dollar invested than any other government investment.”

So why are arts budgets targeted during the recent cuts?

Barrie replies, “They assume unknowningly that the arts are a diversified, dysfunctional and ununited and incohesive group that can’t talk with one mouth, with one voice. That’s a sadness to think that way because the recent federal election in Quebec highlighted how significant culture is to that province, and to that people, and they spoke loudly when it came to the polls.”

Prove that the provincial government is wrong by calling up your MLA and registering your opinion on the recent arts cuts. Write a letter, and copy Gordon Campbell and Kevin Krueger, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and let them know that you are not impressed. Flex your democratic muscle. Email them or phone their offices.

Gordon Campbell:,
(250) 387-1715

Kevin Krueger:,
(250) 953-4246

You can also put in your opinion on the new budget by visiting