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Funding Olympics, Cutting the Arts

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It's Olympic time!

Here's the crazy thing -- yes, I love the Olympics. I love watching them. I love that occasionally, people I know are involved, and I can root extra hard for them. I love the power and grace of the human form focused with intention...it is so beautiful, and for me, so very artistic, and I don't just mean figure skating.

What an excellent opportunity for the youth of the world to see the connections between sport and art, between strength and grace! And since the Olympics are supposed to foster peace and understanding, it's a great chance to bolster cultural coffers, and bring attention and much-needed funds to wonderful, successful cultural programs in the non-profit sector. And it could be funded by corporate sponsors!

Yeah, and I'd like a pony and nutritious gelato, thanks.

Although we have heard some news about Sochi and can anticipate shocking post-game revelations, I'd like to focus on the prior Winter Olympics, the ones in Vancouver. In a nutshell, funding streams for the arts (and other charities) were diverted to feed the Olympic machine. Yes, these funds were used in part to fund B.C. performers at the Games...but at the cost of funding nearly everything else. Hopefully, this re-examination will bring re-flection and re-investment!

In 2010, the Alliance for Arts and Culture revealed that 44 per cent of the arts and culture organizations that received the grants last year didn't get them, predicted that provincial cuts to arts funding would total 92 per cent by 2011-12, which was not far from the mark. In an online interview in 2010-11, Keith Higgins, the President of PAARC (Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres) and the Director of the Helen Pitt Gallery, weighed in on these cuts:

Q: The Helen Pitt Gallery, like many small arts organizations, has been severely impacted by the cuts to arts funding. Can you describe the impacts of these cuts and what it means to the day-to-day work for these organizations?

A: In the Pitt's case, some massive budget changes had to be madequickly if the organization was to be able to survive at all. In August 2009, the B.C. government cut off Gaming Direct Access grants, not just to the arts, but to a whole range of charities. This was a familiar Campbell action: the arbitrary tearing-up of an agreement when it somehow doesn't suit them any more. The grants of casino revenue to charities has been used to justify the ongoing expansion of casinos, and these charities found that they had been played: their support for expansion had been bought on the basis of future benefits that now are not going to materialize.

As I said, the Pitt's response was rapid. There are a limited number of expense items that you can cut in an artist-run organization, because we are extremely efficient: exhibitions in typical municipal galleries usually cost more than ten times what we spend. So, the lease on the gallery's premises -- this is Vancouver, so suitable space is not cheap -- and salary for the Director/Curator were the only things that could be cut to compensate for the shortfall.

Fifty per cent cuts were made to the B.C. Arts Council in the March 2010 budget. The consequences of those cuts are still working their way through the system, but the performing arts and literary non-profits that have already been juried are seeing 60 per cent and 75 per cent cuts to what was a low level of support already. Some organizations are being cut completely, and I'm now working on the assumption that as of January next year, when the juries for visual art and media art organizations have been convened, the Helen Pitt Gallery will have zero support from the B.C. Government.”

In 2011, $7 million was restored to federal funds -- which brought the provincial arts spending up to $6.50 per capita in B.C., as compared to the $26 per capita national average, and the cuts/diversions to arts-funding streams were still being felt across the country. Here's this from cbc.ca news in 2011:

On Monday, SummerWorks, an acclaimed Toronto indie theatre festival, announced it had lost its federal funding. The festival made headlines last year after staging "Homegrown," a play about a convicted terrorist, a member of the group known as the Toronto 18.

In a note posted on its blog, the festival said it had received federal funding for five straight years -- totalling $140,000 -- and was surprised to learn it would not get more money this year.

But Flaherty says arts organizations should not set their budgets assuming they'll get government funds.

"One thing I'd say, and maybe it's different than it used to be, is we actually don't believe in festivals and cultural institutions assuming that year after year after year they'll receive government funding," Flaherty said.

AUGH!

I spend a few weeks each year in British Columbia, partly to visit friends and take in the lush scenery, 
and partly as an invited Teaching Artist. Arts funding has still not been restored, and incredible projects that run the gamut from teen Shakepeare to community and after-school arts programs for at-risk teens continue to wither and die. The Legacy of the Olympics -- especially considering their high-profile arts performances -- should be to increase art and cultural funding, not decrease it.

Will we see a positive arts legacy from the Sochi Games? If only.

And I still want a pony.

 

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