Liberal Funding Cuts Paint Rossland Arts Council Into a Corner

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
September 3rd, 2009

It’s generally accepted that March is the month that often comes in like a lion. The first of September this year however seems to have come in like a whole pack of lions if you work in or around the arts and culture industry.

Deemed by numerous media outlets and pundits the “Bad news” budget, the BC government’s budget update for 2009 cuts arts and culture operating expenses in BC by over 80%. In real number terms the budget for arts and culture operating expenses went from $19,519,000 last year to $3,675,000 for 2009-10.

Since the budget was announced this week, arts groups across the province have been spreading the news of the realities that an 80% drop in arts funding will have on their organizations. Rossland and the various arts and culture groups based here are just starting to understand how these cuts will affect them and starting to look for funding plan Bs.

In the past decade, Rossland has made large strides towards adding a large arts and cultural element to our economy and lifestyle. To see the large role arts, culture and heritage now play a major role in Rossland’s economy one only needs to walk down Columbia Avenue. Our city of 3,200 residents plays host to a new art gallery downtown, a fine mining museum, our own theatre production group, numerous talented artists across all genres, a dance academy with world class instructors, a pottery society, a historic gem of a live venue in the Miners’ Hall, public art sculptures outside the library and much more–all located in a three square block downtown that was revitalized in the 1980s in a heritage and culture theme. With all of that in mind, it’s clear to see how arts and culture play a starring role in Rosslanders’ daily lives as well as the economy.

“I think the arts are extremely important in any community and any cuts that affect the arts, affects us as a community–especially a community with a heritage background,” noted Julie Parker, executive director of the Rossland Chamber of Commerce. “So many of the things we do here are heritage-based.”

In a recent study by the BC provincial government, it was noted that for every dollar invested in the arts, government sees $1.38 come back in taxes.

In an about face move two days after the budget was announced, and following threats of lawsuits by the Gaming Branch and a number of arts organizations around the province, the BC Liberal government announced it would re-instate $20 million in funding for arts organizations that had three year grant agreements. This, however, does nothing to help those who were on year-to-year grants; these groups will no longer be receiving any financial support from the government.

In Rossland, the RCAC (Rossland Council of Arts and Culture) has been hit hard. After twelve years as a volunteer-run effort the group has grown significantly, adding new projects and performances to their list of activities each year. The grant they were expecting this year, which they have been receiving for the past several years, would have meant more financial security and the ability to continue increasing their offerings. Last week the arts council heard that it wouldn’t be receiving any of the grant money it had applied for, monies which amount to half of their entire budget.

“We’ve got to the point where we have a regular annual line up of stuff that we do,” explained RCAC president [and Rossland Telegraph publisher] David Livingstone. “We put on an annual performance series, make regular contributions to the Miners’ Hall renovation project, other little projects that come up each year like the public art sculpture in front of the library, the U-19 Film Festival competition and other things like that. We need the back-up and we need help for those things.”

Despite having applied for the grants in May and expecting an answer by late August, until last week the group had no indication that anything would be different this year than in years past. With yearlong programming and events, the group could not afford to wait until September to do their planning for the upcoming year. This has now led to some big plans being made for the upcoming year that now may be in jeopardy if the group can’t find another last minute option to replace the lost funds.

“It’s pretty harsh the way we have been getting half of our funding from the grant each year and then at the last minute they say no,” added Livingstone. “We had already made commitments with that money as we’ve been receiving it each year and we had no indication that we wouldn’t continue to receive it. We needed to make our plans for the year and people needed to plan their lives around it and now last minute we’re left with nothing and have to think of something else.”

Other arts and culture groups in town have been slightly luckier than the RCAC. The Rossland Museum, for example, although they have applied each year, has never been successful in receiving any of the gaming grants.

“We’ve never received any gaming money,” explained Joyce Austin. “We’ve applied several times but we’ve never gotten any. We actually feel quite lucky now that we’re not dependant on that funding.”

The Rossland museum gets its funding from several sources, including a grant from the City of Rossland, a fee for service from Teck, a fee for service for operating the Visitors’ Centre and admissions/gift shop sales. This year the museum also received a federal grant to hire a student for 14 weeks.

The museum does not necessarily feel comfortable with the new budget, however. Along with the recent closing of BC Tourism, various cuts have put folks and organizations relying on tourism monies into limbo. “As for next year we’re not sure what’s going to happen with the changes to BC Tourism,” explained Austin. “We’ll find out at their fiscal year end in the spring.”

The route Tourism is taking with its recent changes is one the RCAC wishes the arts and culture money had taken. Tourism BC has told its stakeholders that they are going to run operations as normal through the remainder of this fiscal year and then look at where cuts or additions should be made.

“If they had to make the cuts maybe they could have at least made some kind of adjustment over time, or some kind of warning so we could plan around it like, ‘maybe you’re not getting it next year but we’ll fund you all or at least in part this year’,” said Livingstone.

For now while the fallout from the budget settles into place, groups such as the Arts Council will be having regular meetings to address the issue and find a work so that they can continue to offer the high calibre arts and culture we enjoy here in the Golden City.

“You look at where they are spending the money and you wonder why they can’t find other areas of less important things to people’s lives to cut,” concluded Livingstone.

Categories: Arts and Culture

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