Direct Access Outrage: press conference report
On August 30, 2009, over 100 members of Vancouver’s arts community packed themselves into a tiny, sweltering room in NDP MLA Spencer Herbert’s West End office to attend a hastily-arranged press conference.
Attendees came to hear Herbert, the opposition critic for Arts, Culture and Tourism, address the media about the recently confirmed cuts to the province’s Direct Access program earlier this week, which Herbert referred to as “Black Friday.” Direct Access is administered by the Gaming Policy and Enforcement branch.
In the stifling space crammed with journalists and anxious artists, Herbert and Shane Simpson, NDP critic for housing and social development, accused the government of “stealing from charities”, including arts organizations who rely heavily on the funds.
In particular, Herbert and Simpson emphasized that the BC Liberals have illegally broken their contracts with organizations that had been granted multi-year funding. Katrina Dunn, Artistic Director of Touchstone Theatre, addressed the audience, declaring that, despite a successful season, the company has now “been plunged into debt” because of the unexpected drop in revenue.
Only last year, Touchstone was awarded three years of funding which meant that they would not need to reapply for another two years. Like other arts and culture organizations who had been moved to the funding cycle, they received a letter stating they would have to reapply for the funding, despite the fact that the Gaming Policy and Enforcement branch had said, in writing, that the funds were secure.
This news is absolutely devastating to companies like Touchstone, who have already committed their upcoming season and spent some, if not all, of the expected revenues. It is equally distressing to organizations not on multi-year funding who have come to expect the substantial income after years of receiving the provincial support.
The funding cuts have been issued during what was supposed to be a bumper year for BC arts organizations, many of whom have commitments with next year’s Cultural Olympiad to showcase the best of province’s arts and culture on a world stage. With some organizations losing large percentages of their revenues, the Vancouver 2010 Games are also bound to feel the effects of the cuts.
Other companies and individuals who do not depend directly on funding from Gaming are also likely to be affected, as companies often co-produce and co-present shows to stretch limited funds. “It’s like a spider web,” explained Heidi Taylor, dramaturge with the Playwrights Theatre Centre, after the press conference “you pull one thread and the whole thing comes apart.”
As Allyson McGrane explains in her excellent article on the history of Gaming funding in the province, gambling has been condoned in BC, as in other provinces, because part of the revenue generated is meant to go towards charitable causes, including arts and culture.
During questioning, Herbert went on to say that cuts to the arts sector seems particularly short-sighted, given the need for stimulus in these challenging economic times. He pointed out that for every dollar the government invests in the arts, $1.38 is generated in the economy.
In turn, when asked whether the Liberals should have prioritized the arts over other sectors, such as social programs and public safety, Simpson argued that the government is attempting to pit charities against each other, and that proper fiscal management could have avoided the need for cuts in the first place.
When asked, Herbert mentioned a potential class-action law suit could be in the works, although he was quick to say that it would have to be initiated and managed by members of the arts community, not by himself or Mr. Simpson.
The Alliance for Arts and Culture will be hosting a forum to discuss the cuts on September 2, 2009 at 1:00 pm at the Vancouver Museum.