These are the more recent Canadian statistics we have for provincial arts funding levels. They’re from the 2007-2008 year. These figures take time to compile, partly because each provinces distributes arts funding differently, often through more than one ministry or program. However, we can say for certain that since 2008, almost all provinces have either increased their arts funding or stayed at par. Alberta is an exception and its cuts were extremely minor, leaving its arts funding still uncounted miles above BC’s. BC is the glaring exception, and it’s for this reason that even national arts and culture organizations and associations, as well as audience and art organizations in other provincers, are now taking an increasingly strident stand on the BC situation. Given the frustrating and increasingly undemocratic opacity of the BC government’s arts funding, we are not able to put a per capita dollar amount to current BC arts funding, but our best guess is something like $5 per person maximum, most likely less. The BC Arts Council and the Gaming funds have each been cut by more than 50%. There is a $10 million Legacy fund for arts and culture, but its funds – rife with political interference – have been made unavailable to almost all existing BC arts organizations thanks to bizarre restrictive criteria, and furthermore it looks as if not all of those funds will be disbursed (more on this later), and when they are disbursed it’s at the discretion of untrained ministry bureaucrats in the Gaming and Tourism branches, effectively making these a political slush fund. If we take the not unreasonable stance that that $10 million can’t be considered arts funding as we know arts funding, but is instead intended for electioneeering festivals in swing ridings, then the per capita amount falls much, much further, perhaps below $4 per capita.
Arts funding is always a miniscule, even negligible amount in a provincial budget. Even before these drastic cuts it was an unnoticeable 1/1000 of the provincial budget (some regions spend 1% of their budgets on art). Yet that miniscule amount was enough to yield the kind of BC culture that has allowed us to produce our own culture rather than just import culture from somewhere else and suffer a cultural deficit. Not only that, BC arts have managed to do extremely well on the world stage, wildly disproportionate to our our small population. As musician Dan Mangan pointed out, we punch well above our weight internationally, bringing an enormous amount of attention to our province. But these cuts are going to end this precarious reputation, and the cuts are entirely unnecessary. Since BC arts bring in a net wealth to the province, amounting to billions of dollars annually, it’s clear they’re being cut out of some sort of unexplained vengeance rather than proper governmental management. And who are we without a picture of ourselves, and without a habit of innovation and creativity? As British Columbians we deserve a culture of our own. It’s us. It helps, not hinders, our economy. And Premier Campbell, cutting it is cultural suicide. Commercial culture alone will not ensure a BC culture, let alone culture every British Columbian can afford. Does the example of every other Canadian province mean nothing to you? Are you willing to sacrifice our identity, thought, innovation, literacy, social health and tolerance, IQ in children, and everything else that an arts infrastructure guarantees for us?
BC arts has been doing a lot with a little for a long time, but now the government is asking it to squeeze blood from a stone. The brain drain has already begun and is now, after a year of utter drought, rapidly accelerating. Write your MLA about the most recent loss of arts funding here.