The last few months have been stressful ones for both arts and social service organizations in British Columbia. In recent weeks, the stress has increased, with significant cuts announced both to the BC Arts Council‘s core funding, and to Direct Access Grants, funded through gaming and administered by the BC Ministry of Housing and Social Development.
In February 2009, the BC government announced its intention to reduce arts and culture spending by 45% in 2009-10. Supplemental budget estimates released February 18 indicated that one-time funding, totaling $15 million, would be directed to arts, culture and heritage for 2009-10, more than compensating for the cut called for in the budget. At the same time, though, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and the Arts released its three-year Service Plan, which clearly indicated that spending on arts and culture from the province’s “core” budget would be projected to decline from just over $19.5 million in 2008-09 to just under $9.9 million in 2011-12. One day later, then-Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Bill Bennett and BC Arts Council Chair Donald Shumka wrote a joint letter to the BC arts community, confirming that “there has been no funding reduction to arts and culture in the 2009-10 budget [and that] in fact slightly more money will actually be going to arts and culture in the coming fiscal year.” However, the letter was silent on the province’s longer-term intentions.
Applicants for Direct Access Grants became concerned earlier this summer when the usual dates for grant notification passed with no communication from the relevant Ministry. Media sources then learned that the Province had frozen the funds and that staff was performing a review of both the annual and multi-year Direct Access funding programs, with results to be known before the Province’s next budget, anticipated for early September. In late August, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development announced that the freeze on community gaming grants had been lifted, and set out a list of ten “priorities for the remainder of the 2009/10 grants.” Arts funding appeared in sixth place on this list. At the same time, applicants to the Direct Access program began to receive letters advising them that their applications had been denied – whether the applications had been for annual funding, or for a second installment of committed three year funding.
The community began to organize, and pointed questions were asked in the Legislature. Last week, one day after the Provincial budget came down, groups in the middle of multi-year Direct Access funding commitments learned that the Minister of Housing and Social Development had re-considered the cuts to confirmed multi-year Direct Access grants, and that these grant commitments would in fact be honoured in 2009-10. However, arts and social service organizations who had applied for annual funding would still be subject to the revised funding priorities. Indeed, many have already received letters confirming that they would not be funded in 2009-10.
And what about the BC Arts Council? According to a message on the Council’s website, “the Province [has] elected to use gaming revenues to provide support to Council programs. As a result, the 2009/10 Budget Estimates tabled [recently] do not include an appropriation from general revenues. With resources from Gaming, Council will operate as usual through the 2009/10 fiscal year with a budget of approximately $11M. All of Council’s decisions on grants will be based on the independent peer review process with the funds paid via the Community Gaming Grants program.” In short, courtesy of an injection of gaming revenues, funding to the arts through the BC Arts Council will be maintained in 2009-10.
BC Arts Council funding will remain stable.
Previous three year grant commitments made through the Direct Access funding program will be honoured.
It would appear that annual grants through the Direct Access funding program will be curtailed, though the precise impact is not yet known.
for 2010-11 and beyond
BC Arts Council funding is in question. According to the supplementary service plan filed by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts on September 1, ministry spending on Arts and Culture (including the BC Arts Council) is projected to drop from $19.519 million in 2008-09 to 2.175 million in 2011-12.
Direct Access funding levels – either multi-year or annual – appear to be uncertain.
Orchestras Canada is committed to working with our members in British Columbia to research and document this situation, and to working in partnership with fellow national and regional service organizations to advocate on behalf of a Province where (in the words of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts’ own service plan), “thriving arts, culture and heritage sectors not only create a rich place to live and work, but are compelling attractions to visitors.”