Globe & Mail: Ministry name-change leaves artists concerned

By Marsha Lederman. Reprinted from the Globe and Mail, October 25, 2010

What’s in a name? A lot, say some B.C. artists, and they’re worried.

In Monday’s cabinet shuffle, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts disappeared, replaced by a Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. That makes British Columbia the only Canadian province or territory without a culture ministry. Sure there’s “culture” in “cultural development,” but that distinction makes some people in the arts community extremely apprehensive.

“I think it’s probably a very, very negative move,” said Lindsay Brown of the advocacy group Stop B.C. Arts Cuts. “ ‘Cultural development’ sounds so euphemistic, and my worry about it is you can then make it anything, and you don’t actually have to state in it any kind of commitment to any arts funding.”

Ms. Brown was “overjoyed,” however, about the removal of Kevin Krueger from the culture portfolio. “He was probably the most unprofessional and incompetent arts minister we have ever had to endure.”

The relationship between Mr. Krueger and the arts community had deteriorated over the past year-and-a-half, beginning with cuts in provincial arts funding and, more recently, with Mr. Krueger stating in some media interviews that he felt threatened while meeting with arts groups.

Ms. Brown welcomed a fresh start with a new minister, but expressed concerns that the new minister, Stephanie Cadieux, is a rookie in cabinet. “You can’t see that as a good sign. … But no matter how bad she [might turn out to be], she can’t be as bad as Kevin Krueger.”

NDP Culture Critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said on Monday that he was worried about the ministry’s name change, especially on the heels of what he called “huge” cuts in arts funding.

“To me, it’s a bit of an insult to everybody who supports arts and culture in the province, and seems to point to a further de-prioritization of arts and culture from this government. When you eliminate ‘arts’ out of the title, that does send a signal that, to government, it’s not very important. Certainly by their actions in terms of major cuts in arts investment they’ve shown that, and now they’re just confirming it.”

The executive-director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, Amir Ali Alibhai, said the name change could “suggest that there’s less of a priority being placed on the professional practice of the arts.”

Mr. Alibhai was quick to say that’s not necessarily a bad thing: “It has the potential to be very inclusive. It suggests to me that there’s something to invest in, to develop, and it’s kind of forward looking. … But of course there’s some concern about not sacrificing values like artistic merit, but I think that’s safeguarded by the B.C. Arts Council.”

Gillian Wood, executive-director of the arts council, said it will be business as usual under the new ministry and minister.

Ms. Cadieux was not available for an interview on Monday.

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