Jane Danzo, Chair of BC Arts Council, resigns with damning letter

Here is the text of Jane Danzo’s letter of August 16, 2010 to Kevin Krueger, BC’s Minister of Tourism, Culture & the Arts. Stop BC Arts Cuts today makes a renewed call for Minister Krueger’s resignation. Danzo’s devastating letter outlines the Council’s loss of arms-length independence from government and makes clear the degree of political abuse of arts funds. It should be noted that “arms-length” in British Columbia has never been strong – a colleague called it “wrist-length” today – and now it’s virtually nonexistent. The BC public has lost faith in its provincial government’s ability to protect BC arts and culture, not to mention in its ability to refrain from using arts money for political gain. The government MUST remove arts money from the “Legacy” fund – a highly suspect ministerial discretion fund – and put it back into a properly constituted BC Arts Council.

See also Marsha Lederman’s article in the Globe and Mail.

Full text of Jane Danzo’s letter:

Dear Minister Krueger,

Thank-you for your kind words in last week’s press release that announced my resignation from the British Columbia Arts Council.

I was very proud to have been appointed to the BC Arts Council and even more so to have been appointed Chair. I consider it a privilege to have been asked to serve the government for the past four years.

While my resignation may have seemed sudden, I had been considering stepping down for some time.

With respect and with regret, I felt obliged to resign in order to have a voice. In my opinion, the work of The B.C. Arts Council Board, has not been supported by government on a number of different levels.

According to the Arts Council Act, Council is defined as not more than 15 members, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The Charter of the BCAC further identifies the appointees as “the Board”. The Act stipulates that the Board’s main purpose is to provide support for the arts and culture sector in British Columbia. In November 2009, Council (board and staff) made a submission to the Committee on Finance and Governmental Services regarding BCAC funding for the following year. Council recommended that the government return to an appropriation for the BCAC and restore its funding to 08/09 levels. This recommendation, which was echoed by the submissions of artists and arts organizations province-wide, was supported by the government’s own committee who brought it forward for consideration in the March budget. The government rejected its committee’s strong recommendation for restoration. The devastating impact of that decision is now being felt by artists and arts organizations throughout the province as they receive notification of substantial cuts to their core funding.

Instead of restoring the funding to the BCAC, the government announced the establishment of an Arts Legacy Fund- a surprise as much to the Board as to the arts community. Even after the announcement, the Board was not consulted for input, nor was it permitted to know the details as they were developed by ministry staff over a four month period. Meanwhile, the arts community struggled, some members with life-threatening uncertainty, as they reduced their programming, laid off staff and made poignant appeals to patrons and donors for further support. And the Board remained awkwardly silent until the government released more information about the Arts Legacy Fund.

The Act also specifies that the Board support arts and culture through advocacy. This responsibility is virtually impossible to accomplish because the Board’s relationship to government is not at-arms–length. It has neither its own funding nor its own staff. It is dependent upon budget allocation for funds and ministry employees for human resources, both managed by a government employee. Furthermore, it has recently been made clear that the Board does not have a voice independent of government. The only independence the Board has from government is defined by the granting process.

The Board members of the BCAC are chosen for, among other qualifications, their areas of expertise and their knowledge of the sector. Collectively, they represent a broad range of board experience that includes not-for profit, public sector and corporate boards. Given the issues I have identified, it would not be surprising if such capable volunteers were to become frustrated, even disillusioned. I believe that unless government is more consultative, and makes significant organizational changes, it will be difficult to attract and retain qualified candidates for Board positions on the BCAC.

I strongly recommend that the government and the Board review the models used in some of the other provincial jurisdictions where their arts councils are at arms–length from government; where they are respected for their expertise and judgment and where, as a result, the arts and culture sectors are better served. Surely such co-operation could produce only beneficial results for the B.C. arts community.

Minister Krueger, you have been a strong advocate for increased funding to the BCAC , and, more broadly, for the arts and culture sector of British Columbia. I am very grateful for that support, and, on behalf of the community, I thank-you very much.

Yours very truly,
Jane M. Danzo


13 responses to “Jane Danzo, Chair of BC Arts Council, resigns with damning letter

  1. Jane Danzo must be commended for her courage in taking the strong step of resigning, and in speaking out against an intolerable situation. Her resignation and her letter are profoundly telling; they also set a standard for the rest of us. This government’s regressive and destructive trajectory must be stopped but it will require action on all our parts.

  2. Jessica Van der Veen


  3. alex lazaridis ferguson

    It’s hard to make sense of the government’s cuts to arts funding. In the years leading up to the Olympics the BC Liberals increased spending on the arts. The result: more and better work – proving that increased funding pays off. The Liberals could have sat back and basked in the glory of all this, taking full credit for it, and showing how the relatively tiny amounts of money spent on the arts pay dividends in so many ways. Instead they cut funding. Debt concerns? But that doesn’t make sense given that they’re blowing wads of cash on projects like the new roof on BC Place. Is it really just that they’re ideologically opposed to the arts? I don’t think so. But somehow they seem to have dug themselves into a rather petulant stance against the arts community. What exactly led to the bunker mentality that Campbell and Hansen seem to have adopted? Good for Danzo for speaking up. It’s a very courageous and welcome perspective from the inside. But what is it going to take to move this government. Do we really have to wait for a regime change, and is the NDP going to win the next election, and if it does, who, other than Spencer Herbert in that party cares about arts funding?

  4. Pingback: Chair of BC Arts Council resigns with damning letter | artrubicon

  5. Yes, I agree Alex, it is hard to understand why. Maybe the solution is to leave a note on Colin Hansen’s desk that says, “Please just put the money back. No questions asked. We’ll pretend none of this ever happened.” If only.

  6. As we learn about the outcomes of BCAC grant results (which I believe, should all be appealed as part of advocacy work) and the dire consequences for arts workers (we number some 78,000), Alex points to the central question we need to ask in public and at every other level:
    What is the government’s motivation for the disproportionate cuts? Are we looking at an attempt to disenfranchise existing professional cultural infrastructures and replace them with local “festival” photo-ops for politicians? Why the contempt? We have yet to hear a rationale. Our audiences number in the millions; perhaps they, too, would like an answer.

  7. The Liberal government cuts to arts funding and their lack of respect for the concept of arms length funding through the BC Arts Council is preposterous. It seems like an ideological ploy to punish the people that they believe do not support the government at the polls. If that isn’t the case then it really is a massively stupid decision that might remind some of us older types of some “wacky” memories from the bad old Socred days. This government is really cut from the same ideological cloth. Still the wild west are we? Are the BC Arts Council days numbered?

  8. Dr. V. Setty Pendakur

    Hats off to Jane Danzo. It is astonishing and sad to see the drastic cuts to services to human beings including arts and culture as well as recreation. Their excuse: difficult times. Yes, these are difficult times but good governance means that you are prepared for the tough times. Then of course there is no shortage of money for business subsidies, stadium and any other extravaganza that this government can pick up the tab for.

    Where is that Gordon Campbell who was once the Mayor of Vancouver who supported and helped construct the new Vancouver Public Library and various other arts and culture activities now?

  9. We have been hearing from a large number of British Columbians, non-artists and artists alike, arts audience members and arts workers, and all of them are hugely grateful for the courageous letter Jane Danzo has written. The letter came at a pretty dark time, when a year of devastating cuts has finally resulted in established and well-loved arts organizations folding all over the province and when a new round of astonishingly deep cuts has just been announced by the BC Arts Council. Thanks to Jane for taking this stand at this time and for pointing out that this political interference is not happening in other jurisdictions in Canada.

  10. Pingback: Who says BC’s Liberals hate the arts? : Canada's online magazine: Politics, entertainment, technology, media, arts, books: backofthebook.ca

  11. Harold Rhenisch

    I would like to point out that this government is not exactly cutting cultural funding. Yes, it gutted the arts in British Columbia when it eliminated the BC Festival of the Arts, and, yes, arts production and distribution in the province (and the social independence of the province’s communities) have suffered greatly, but, still, money continues to flow into the arts. The annual budget of the Festival was, I believe, about $2,500,000. Its was a sizeable loss, but small in comparison to the money the government gave every community willing to rename its downtown core as ‘Spirit Square’ ($500,000 a pop) to build a celebration space. Yes, these spaces tended to suck precious resources out of local governments, as they matched funds (in Campbell River, the city’s contribution became $1,750,000 — hardly affordable — and the square remains scarcely utilized), but it’s still arts and culture funding, although it hasn’t worked out, culturally or economically, as hoped. It is also not what we have traditionally termed ‘the arts’. These cuts are, however, part of a long-term trend. To understand these changes, I suggest we look to East Germany and to Poland (etc.), countries which went through different forms of anti-socialist revolutions in the last 20 years. The models for the BC counter-revolution are there. They also predate the East European revolutions, right back to Bill Bennett days — 30 years! This has been a long time coming. Such trends can be countered, but only, I believe, if we get our terms as precise as possible. For many cultural groups, hockey is the arts, while many British Columbians spend their sizeable annual arts budgets on ‘arts’ technology, such as cell phones and big screen tvs. In such a context, the words ‘arts’ and ‘culture’ have new meanings. What’s more, our society is culturally splintered, with some ‘arts’ production being given to heritage projects in ethnic communities, some given to academic communities, and others to craft communities, and so on, and without there being a strong common core of values uniting them other than the cultural dynamic of Vancouver, which is more known for the arts of cooking, decorating, and eating than for the arts of painting and performance. Those are, perhaps, our common cultural drivers. They certainly show up in every community in the province, to varying degrees related to the cultural and economic distance of the community from Vancouver. This is, perhaps, where this government places its interest. In terms of more traditional arts-initiatives, the government has tried to create a nationalist, political core to culture-in-the-community, with its Olympics arts and its Spirit Square projects, and so forth. I do not think its approaches are wise, but I do believe they are here and must be dealt with head-on, and that they do have roots in community. One last point: it is built into BC Arts Policy that the arts will be largely produced in urban areas and exported to rural ones. This is will only be a recipe for common community and self expression when the ‘outlying’ communities have been redefined in terms of their urban connections. This movement is well underway, with viticulture, coffee culture, urban farming and the environmental and green movements being obvious examples. In the meantime, distribution of more traditionally-formed urban art throughout the province is increasingly enacted through festivals. Think of it this way: the arts have been used for a long time now as a tourism driver, rather than a ‘cultural’ driver in an ‘aesthetic’ sense. We have all enjoyed these festivals, because they touch our common cultural values. From there to an elimination of arts funding because tourism needs are, supposedly, taken care of in other ways, is, however, no great distance. If we are to fix the problems with arts funding in BC today, we will have to address these issues, and many others. We, British Columbians, have collectively created this situation and have been watching it unfold for a long time. Current developments should, at least, hardly be a surprise. I am glad we are talking about this stuff at last.

  12. Pingback: BC Arts Council chair resigns  | News in the Kootenays

  13. Pingback: Triumph for BC arts community | Art Threat

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