Provincial spending cleaver hacks apart the arts community

By David F. Rooney

There were five little words that members of Revelstoke’s cultural community dreaded reading when they opened their mail on Monday: “We regret to inform you…”

Letters that opened with that phrase were received by just about every arts organization in the city and they heralded a financially bloody and unprecedented attack on their funding by the provincial government.

The Revelstoke Visual Arts was told that it had just lost $16,000 in funding despite having signed a three-year funding agreement with the BC Gaming Commission’s Direct Access granting body in 2008. The Revelstoke Arts Council lost about $12,000 it had successfully applied for. The Revelstoke Museum & Archives lost an unspecified amount of money. And the BC Interior Forestry Museum essentially lost all of its funding, period. It is expected to close its doors and let its two staff members go next Monday. It was unknown late Monday whether that closure will be temporary or permanent.

The Arts Council, the Revelstoke Museum and the Visual Arts Centre will weather this financial crisis for the time being but they are both angry and worried.

“This is really devastating for the arts and culture community,” Visual Arts Centre Chairwoman Margaret Pacaud said Monday. “We will all be in dire straits.”

The Visual Arts Centre did realize a surplus last year. That will help it get through the rest of this year but no one knows what will happen in 2010. It could lose its one paid position, that of executive director Jackie Pendergast, and thus be forced to rely on volunteers to do absolutely everything.

Arts Council Chairwoman carol Palladino said she read the letter telling her the Council had just lost $12,000 in funding with “shock and dismay.”

She was especially concerned because the Council had just announced its lineup of winter and early spring concerts with performers who have all signed contracts. It, too, could see staff cuts, she said.

It is, at this point, unknown if the Railway Museum, too, had been affected. But for the BC Interior Forestry Museum, which has struggled with funding for the last few years, this is nothing less than catastrophic. Director Gerry Gardner said Monday that it would close its doors next Monday.

The letters all claim that the cuts are due to the “global economic recession.” That’s the same recession that the federal government, major banks and others are saying is basically over. And there is a strong suspicion within the arts community that the cuts are intended to siphon off funds from sports, arts and culture organizations to help pay for the Olympics.

And its not just here. The Touchstones Gallery lost about $40,000 in funding, Pacaud said, and other arts groups across the riding and, indeed, the province are now in the position of having to bail themselves out.