Only widespread protests may stop spending cuts

By David F. Rooney

Only major public protests may stop the BC Liberals’ plans to hack apart the grants to arts and cultural groups, says MLA Norm Macdonald.

“If enough people react then it might achieve some result,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “But it would have to be a lot of people.”

Macdonald said there is something inherently distasteful in the way that the government has, until now, covered up its handling of the financial problems facing British Columbia. In January the BC Liberals were saying the province would be $450 million in the hole thanks to the global recession. Now it looks as though it’s in the red to the tune of $3.6 billion.

Macdonald said that in the run up to the election the government had to know that BC’s real economic situation was far direr than it was letting on. And so now it’s trying to dig its way out at the expense of the province’s citizens.

Macdonald said the government’s message is that arts and culture aren’t important economic drivers so therefore they can butcher their spending supports with impunity, even abrogating multi-year agreements they have signed with museums and galleries, most of them in small towns. The agreements allegedly include language that allows the government to break them if there is no money to fund them. While the global amount of money dispersed through the Direct Access gaming grants from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development is in the millions, the individual grants that keep small-town museums and public art galleries alive are paltry: in the tens of thousands.

Here in Revelstoke, the Visual Arts Centre lost $16,000, the Revelstoke Arts Council lost $12,000, the Revelstoke Museum was denied $30,000 and the BC Interior Forestry Museum was told it could not have $18,000. Railway Museum Executive Director Jennifer Dunkerson said the museum had just received one of the dreaded “I regret to inform you.” She did not say how much the Railway Museum’s had been seeking in grant money.

What appalls the directors and chairs of arts organizations here in Revelstoke and beyond is the strong suspicion that the government didn’t breathe about the cuts and just sprang them on the arts community after many groups had budgeted for the money and had, in effect, spent it by booking concert performers, and arranging for exhibitions and public art programs.

Revelstoke Museum Chairwoman Anne Catto said the decision was “really disappointing.” Others have described it as appalling and dismaying. BC Interior Forestry Museum Chairman Brian Sumner said the denial means “more than 50 per cent of our budget has evaporated,” putting two people out of work.

While the letters say groups are welcome to reapply for funding next year they make it clear that “this decision is not subject to a reconsideration or review.” That leaves arts and cultural groups with few options beyond public protests and political action. (Please see the editorial, Wanna burn a party card?)

“People have a right to a responsive government,” Macdonald said. “And they have to put pressure on their MLAs to respond for them.”

The final irony in all this is that the government is using the proceeds from gambling to finance programs for the poor.

“People should feel outraged by this otherwise you’re complicit,” Macdonald said.