Peter Ladner, publisher of Business in Vancouver, speaks out against the cuts

Here is the full text of Peter Ladner’s article, from its original source at Business in Vancouver:


Liberal-arts cuts are bad for B.C.’s economy
Friday, 11 December 2009

It’s hard to understand what the BC Liberals were thinking when they chose arts and culture to take such a huge hit in the struggle to keep the province on track financially.

Artists talking to businesspeople feel compelled to make the economic case for what they do. Although they’re a sideshow to the real contribution of the arts, those numbers are impressive: a payback of $1.05 to $1.36 for every dollar invested; $12 in economic spinoffs for every dollar spent on the arts. My experience is that the small amount of money contributed by the province leverages not just matching funding but thousands of volunteer and unpaid hours from people who care passionately about what they do, building the social capital that is vital to any place that purports to be “the best place on Earth.”

There is a bigger financial picture, too.

The arts are the infrastructure for a creative economy. Why would we be lowering taxes to attract new businesses and mobile employees, especially in the burgeoning new- media industries, while we undermine the performing artists and organizations that feed those industries and pull creative people into this province?

“By reinventing our province as a cultural centre in the world … we … effectively distinguish our cultural identity in the global economy in ways that would ensure B.C.’s continued prosperity,” said PUSH Festival director Norman Armour. “To the province’s young professionals – emerging artists, administrators and technicians – who are now considering, as I did 20 years ago, the difficult, life-determining decision of whether they should lay down roots here, stick it out or simply pack up and leave – what can I say?”

After touring the province, one of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services’ 49 recommendations was to “make funding of the arts a high priority in the 2010-11 budget by returning to overall actual funding levels of 2008-09.”

That would bring it up to 1/20th of 1% of the total budget.

The government argues that it gave the B.C. Arts Council $150 million last year in a big-burst endowment intended to provide stable funding for the future. The problem is that the proceeds, expected to be $7.5 million a year, are at half that amount because of low returns. The same problem is afflicting foundations that support the arts, with at least one liquidating its capital to keep money flowing to arts organizations that would otherwise disappear.

Provincial funding to the arts is down 50% this year. Approximately 85% to 90% of the cuts are scheduled for 2010-11 – from $47 million to $3 million – and that’s from a starting point of contributing only 7% of operating budgets of performing-arts organizations, the lowest in Canada, where the average is almost twice that.

The 2010 Olympic Games rings a hollow bell with its rich cultural festivities and promises to lure tourists, framed as they are by the gutting of performing-arts support.

Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman said his priority for gambling revenue is support for low-income, disabled and at-risk people.

“So often we talk about children at risk and the vulnerable in our society,” said Yulanda Faris, arts philanthropist, chair of the Vancouver Opera Foundation, honorary chair of Judith Marcuse Dance Projects, at a recent rally. “The arts have the force and the dynamism to help everyone across the board: rich, poor, sick, whomever. We have the tools and we are part of the solution.”

Bob D’Eith, executive director of the Music BC Industry Association, tells the story of Winston Churchill’s finance minister asking to cut arts funding to support the Second World War effort.

“Then what are we fighting for?” was Churchill’s response.

Peter Ladner ( pladner@biv.com) is a founder of Business in Vancouver and a former Vancouver city councillor.

Note:

Peter Ladner’s article provides a great set of briefing notes for anyone willing to call or write their MLAs. Have you ever called your MLA? It’s surprisingly easy to do, and probably more effective than even writing a personal letter. Now that the BC legislature is out of session until late January, the MLAs are back in their constituency offices in their home ridings. You can call and talk to them, or go in and visit. If they’re not in, you can leave a message. They’re your MLAs – they must respond to you. Please make it clear to them in rational terms what these cuts are going to mean for your community, both economically and socially. Thank you!

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