David Diamond’s submission to the BC Finance Committee

David Diamond is the Artistic/Managing Director of BC’s Headlines Theatre. This is his submission to the Standing Committee on Finance, spoken in person to the committee today in the course of its public Vancouver hearing:

To the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services:

September 16, 2010

Hello, my name is David Diamond and I am the Artistic Director of Headlines Theatre. The best way, I believe, to talk about arts and culture is to make it personal.

One of the reasons I am here because sometime in the last 30 years, Headlines will have done a project in every single one of your constituencies; projects on addiction, family violence, racism, intergenerational conflict, homelessness, gang violence, suicide prevention and many others.

I want to acknowledge off the top that I am very happy that a portion of the money that was cut from Arts and Culture has come back to the BC Arts Council. Let us not think, however, this has solved the problem.

Mr. Les – you came to the opening of Meth, in Sto:Lo Territory – Meth toured into 27 communities across BC and then toured western Canada. I remember you came to me after the show, literally vibrating and said you had never experienced anything like this powerful theatre project on addiction;

Mr. Ralston – you might recall “Here and Now”, on gang violence. It was so deeply embraced by the Indo-Canadian community it was created and first performed inside the Ross Street Temple in Vancouver and then moved to the Surrey Arts Centre;

Mr. Donaldson – I carry a Gitxsan name because of the theatre work over many, many years throughout the Hazelton area – in Kispiox and Gitanmaax in particular.

Mr. Rustad – Street Spirits in PG who do work with at-risk youth, who I am sure you must know, were born directly from a Headlines’ workshop over 10 years ago.

I could go on through all of your constituencies.

(Cont’d….)

It is already well researched that art and culture is a great financial investment for Government – but art and culture is far more than that: Art IS the psyche of a society. I want to share some other people’s words about this with you:

“One of the most powerful moments in After Homelessness…[Headlines’ 2009 production, created and performed by people who know homelessness, won ‘Outstanding Production of the Year’ at the local professional theatre awards – the Jessies] was when a well- dressed woman in her 50s replaced the character of a crack addict. She was able to improvise a few lines, but then she began to weep uncontrollably. I didn’t get the impression that it was her pity that was making her cry. I identified with her privilege and maybe I’m projecting, but what I thought made her break down was something that I was also experiencing: getting it, for the first time, an understanding of the indignity and inhumanity that homeless people face everyday and that we, the audience, share our common humanity with the characters on stage.”

David Q.

“I have been working with a young First Nations boy who has been diagnosed with FAS and has been ordered into counseling due to several charges ranging from assault to car theft all while he was under the influence of Alcohol or Meth. He has been a very challenging client for me to engage, until I happened to see him at your production (on addiction).

At our next session I casually asked him what he thought of the Meth [Headlines’ 2006 mainstage production, created and performed by people who were touched by addiction, that played in Vancouver and toured BC. It then toured Western Canada in 2009 renamed “Shattering”] play he immediately lit up and started to talk about how real it was and how much it reflected his own situation. It was the most talking that he had done up to that point and we have continued to return to it on many occasions. I wanted to let you know how your play impacted both myself and my client and thank you.”

Stewart Johnston, Counsellor /Program Director, Vanderhoof Alcohol & Drug Services (Feb, 2007)

Meth has had a profound affect on the audience members and has resulted in a significant increase of approximately 100 people in self referrals to our mental health services. This is a good thing! We are moving forward with facilitated discussion groups and would really like to use a live theatre performance as part of our follow up. On behalf of Kitamaat Village and all those who attended. Thank you all for the work, the performance, the energy that you bring.”

Lorna Morrison, Director of Health Kitimaat Village (Feb, 2007

“The Here and Now project [Headlines’ 2005 main stage production, created and performed by people who had lived issues of gang violence] holds a great deal of value within our local community and within our larger global community. I came with my mother, brother and partner. Sitting within the family context was important to me as many of the issues were mirrored in our lives. It is so easy for many of us to stand back and say ‘call the cops’ – but it isn’t as easy as that. There are so many strings that are interwoven and if you tug one – it impacts all of the rest. Thank you for allowing us, as a family, to view this.”

Bindy Kang, December 22, 2005

I could have brought you 28 pages of these testimonials, in 10 pt. print, each a window into a world, deeply touched by art.

We have a definitions problem in the arts and culture sector. Tax dollars to other industries are “industrial subsidies”. We get “government grants”. Industrial subsidies sound like good business practice and grants sound like hand-outs. And yet, every dollar invested by the Province in the arts returns up to $1.36 back to provincial treasuries.

When the current Minister responsible for Culture asks the public what they would rather have us fund, art and culture or education and health, he misses this fact and he is not understanding how profoundly art and culture IS education and health.

Cuts to an already tiny arts and culture budget hurt communities – this in turn hurts education (because art and culture challenges us and nurtures critical thinking – art in schools nurtures better students), it hurts health – in the same way that individuals need to express themselves to be healthy, so do living communities – what does it mean for our major cultural self-reflection to be through US-based TV and movies?

To put this in a financial context:

Total arts and cultural spending – including money to the BC Arts Council (BCAC), Gaming, Ministry staff, Royal BC Museum, including the 7M that was just returned equals 0.1% of the total Provincial budget (According to Gov’t budget figures i.e. $46 Million out of a $40 Billion budget.) The BCAC portion (again, including the $7Million that was just returned) represents 0.04% of the total BC budget.

Canada is one of the lowest funders on a per capita basis of culture in the western world, and BC is by far the lowest funder of art and culture per capita in Canada, according to 2007/08 figures – the most recent we have.

This should be a province-wide embarrassment.

What do the recent cuts to BCAC and Gaming mean in practical terms to companies like Headlines Theatre? Operating funds are extremely hard to replace.

Our yearly budget averages around $300,000. 45% of that comes from various levels of Government, 30% is other fundraising and 25% is earned income.

We will either have to do less work or we will have to charge FAR MORE for that work. Keep in mind the communities we work with are themselves impoverished, meaning their access to this work will be severely limited. This will happen because of a double whammy being experienced by the arts and culture sector between already low levels of BC Arts Council funding, and the diversion of what are really small amounts of Gaming funds away from arts and culture. We have come to rely on Gaming funds for core operations and are anticipating these will vanish entirely this coming year.

Gaming is also a way many cultural groups who do not get operating funds manage to survive. They have been devastated by the changes in Gaming and, as a result of the recent funding chaos have laid off staff, or reduced their output, like the See Seven theatre companies. Some have closed their doors entirely, like the Helen Pitt Gallery.

The Government is now targeting Gaming money for arts and culture to only youth projects. This is misguided. When did violence become a youth issue? When did addiction become a youth issue? Racism? Suicide? Gangs? These are all intergenerational issues and ghettoizing these issues into one generation is an abrogation of our responsibilities to youth. How do we say to a 15 year old girl that she should get a handle on her addiction when she is going home to a father or a grandmother who is living inside their own addiction to alcohol, to violence, or to work? This reductionist, mechanistic approach is part of the problem, not part of any solution.

Also, arts and culture is not a “tool” for tourism. It is the nurturing of a healthy arts and culture community – a community that has the stability to take risks – that creates a local vibrancy that tourists find attractive. This happens from the bottom up – not the top down. It cannot be directed or manufactured by Government – only supported from a distance.

With all this in mind, what do we need from you? FIVE THINGS:

1. We need to stop calling taxpayer dollars that go to arts and culture “grants” and refer to them as the cost effective industrial subsidies that they are. This could begin with this Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.

2. We need a TRIPLING of the arts and culture budget allocation. Allocating 0.3% of the overall budget, up from 0.1%. This would equal $19.62 per capita and STILL be the lowest in the country, but certainly better than what we have now. This would mean an allocation to the BCAC of 0.12% of total BC budget, up from 0.04%. Twelve one- hundredths of one percent.

3. We need across the Board reinstatement of the Gaming funds allocation to arts and culture, accessible with the same criteria as before the cuts and changes in focus.

4. The last year or more has been complete chaos for arts and culture here in BC. We need stability. We need a similar model that is in place at the Canada Council and that is three-year stable funding cycles. We need to be able to plan effectively; to get out of this cyclical crisis management mode.

5. We need a specific direction in the budget that the BCAC’s arms length status is sacred and will never, regardless of the political complexion of Government, be threatened again. Government has no role to play in determining the content of cultural expression. When this happens in other so-called “uncivilized” countries we wave our fingers at them from here in the West. All of us, regardless of political affiliation, need to be very concerned about the recent move in this direction here in BC.

These are not complicated or unreasonable requests. Each of them will help build a healthy arts and culture sector, which in turn helps build a healthy Province.

Thank you

David Diamond Artistic/Managing Director
Headlines Theatre
Theatre for Living
Vancouver, BC

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2 responses to “David Diamond’s submission to the BC Finance Committee

  1. You nailed it, David. Thank you so much for all the work you put in on this and how you articulated it so well.

  2. Excellent submission David. Just superb work.

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