The BC government’s arts funding “shell game” explained

The BC Liberal government has been playing a “shell game” with arts funding – that is, moving funds around by sleight-of-hand. And as it moves funds around, it manages to reduce their total sum at every step, meanwhile pretending that this is not in fact happening (see video above). This explanation was first printed here.

First, you need to know that arts are funded via 3 sources in BC. These are the 3 “shells” in the shell game:

1. Gaming funds. These are known as “Direct Access” funds and derive from lotteries and gambling. (There are also funds from Bingo, and these are on the verge of being cut too). All of these funds are mandated to be distributed directly to arts organizations and other charities; gambling was only legalized in this province with the understanding that a significant proportion of gambling/gaming monies would be returned to charities in the communities.

2. BC tax revenues, distributed to the arms-length BC Arts Council (BCAC), which in turn distributes funds to artists and arts organizations. The government also on occasion distributes our tax money directly (not necesssarily through the BCAC) to special festivals or one-time events or special projects.

3. The 150 Cultural Fund. This was a $150 million endowment to the BC Arts Council in 2008 (BC’s 150th birthday) meant to generate at least 7.5 million annually for the BCAC. Due to the economic downturn it generated only about $3.5 million last year, but even 7.5 million wouldn’t be enough to fund the BCAC. It’s not a cash infusion and as far as arts organizations are concerned, it’s unavailable.

Now, how were the cuts made and how was the shell game played? … cont’d.

1. The first move: On August 30, at 5 pm on a Friday, Rich Coleman, Minister of Gaming, retracted virtually all the Direct Access gaming funds from the arts organizations to which they are usually given, and to which they had been more or less promised. Most of these organizations had relied on this seemingly secure money for many years. Coleman later gave a little of this money back to some of the organizations – but only to those on a “multi-year” contract – and that’s why the public mistakenly believed all the money had been returned. Most organizations, however, were not on a multi-year contract. It should be noted that Coleman abruptly retracted promised funds from the non-multi-year organizations only months before their fiscal year-ends, throwing them into immediate financial crisis. (Many of these have already shut down, creating instant unemployment.)

2. In September, the government also announced it was cutting most of its funding to the BC Arts Council (this traditionally comes from tax revenue money, as opposed to Gaming money). This portion was approx 18.5 million annually before cuts (extremely low compared to all other Canadian provinces), and has now been reduced to a couple million. To see these cuts visually, see Arts Cuts Data Visualizations, which are based on the BC Liberals’ own budget service plans, and which starkly show how radical the cuts are. Note that these visualizations don’t include the Gaming cuts above, since the gov’t doesn’t provide visualizable, publicly available data for Gaming (and that’s yet another concern re: Gaming).

3. Next, the government then moved a little of the Gaming (“Direct Access”) money it had just retracted from arts organizations in Point 1 above, and put a tiny amount of it back into the BC Arts Council or toward special arts projects. While this may have looked like an infusion of money, it all still amounts to a net deficit for the sector. Implying that these were “additional” funds was the first part of Krueger’s lie of omission.

4. The second part of the lie of omission involves “the 150”, the $150 million Cultural Fund endowment (this is what Alma Lee is talking about here). Krueger has stated that the Liberals have put $150 million into the arts, for a net gain – but a) that amount was endowed in 2008, and b) it’s not $150 million in cash for the arts – it’s just numbers on paper. It’s an endowment that was only meant to yield 7.5 million annually, and thanks to recession produced only $3.5 million this year. It was deceptive in more than one way for Krueger to imply the Liberals put 150 million into the BCAC this year.

Some important conclusions:

1. Arts Minister Krueger is being deceptive when he implies in the video above that the Liberals have “flowed more money” into the BCAC this year and are therefore supporting the arts. Putting part of the confiscated gaming money into the BCAC and pretending that it’s an “addition” of money is a mistruth, and saying the government has “flowed” 150 million into the arts, is misleading. The BC Arts Council has been gutted.

2. The government is moving to an Alberta model of arts funding, in which no tax dollars to to arts funding; only gaming/lottery funds do. The only difference is that Alberta puts in much more gaming revenue than B.C., while the amount of Gaming funding going to the arts here is dwindling to nothing. Funding arts only with gaming is a whole other concerning issue for a number of reasons including that Gaming funds are not subject to the same rules as regular tax funding and are not entirely transparent.

3. All you really need to know, no matter what Minister Krueger says, is that the cuts this year amount to 50% and by 2010-11 the proposed cuts amount to almost 92%.

4. As an aside, selling BC Rail for what it was worth, rather than for $1, would have funded all of these organizations easily, for many years, as would all of the money spent on the Olympics.

Lastly, who’s the real arts minister? Why are people saying the Gaming minister is the de facto arts minister?

Rich Coleman, Minister responsible for Gaming, is now being considered the “de facto arts minister” because Gaming now provides virtually all of the remaining arts funding, and he has influence over what Gaming will fund. Coleman is a former RCMP officer from Abbotsford. His new Gaming priorities include such things as cadets. Within his newly prioritized list of charities to be funded by Gaming, the arts are being dropped to the bottom. His letter explaining this is here (and it’s one of many sources of the fallacy that arts are in competition with starving children). The lotteries made almost 2 billion last year but only a tiny portion of that, less than 200 million, was going to charity – and now much, much less than that (total cuts to be known when the budget is released). The rest will flow directly into general tax revenue, something that most provinces and nations frown on. Governments should not fund their budgets with the gambling losses of their own citizens but through other means such as, for example, adequate corporate taxes. The citizens of BC public did not legalize gambling with the idea it would fill the budget; gambling’s dirtiness was justified only by the fact that its proceeds went to charities benefitting arts, sports, children’s activites such as

Further questions about this? Write to us and we’ll give you as much information as we can find.


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