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B.C. art attack: Interview with Artspeak Director Melanie O'Brian

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Melanie O'Brian is the Director of Artspeak Gallery in Vancouver.

Q - How has Artspeak been impacted by the cuts to the arts?  How has this impacted artists?  How has your publications program been impacted?

Artspeak has been impacted by the BCAC (BC Arts Council) cuts in that we cannot produce any new publications this year. In the past we have produced between 3-6 books annually and there is currently such a strain paying for our core expenses and exhibition programming that publications have to be put on the back burner.

In terms of the cuts to organizations, artists have been thus impacted by less support (for programs they are invited to participate in), fewer opportunities (fewer programs to be invited to participate in), scaled back invitations to produce new work. It goes without saying that art will still be made in this climate, but for Artspeak to continue to work to the standard we have achieved in the past to present this work will be very difficult. 

With a full-time staff of 2 people, Artspeak has been able to produce important, far-reaching programs. The cuts not only reduce the programs to a more regional context but put a lot of pressure on the staff to scramble to maintain our level of professionalism and leads to burn-out.
 
Q - The Chair of the BC Arts Council recently resigned.  How was this viewed in the arts sector?

With interest.

Q - Recently, some funding was restored to the arts budget.  Will this make any level of impact?  How is gaming funding changes impacting arts organizations?

The restored $7 million will of course make an impact to reduce the drastic results of the cuts. But the reality is that the funding has still been substantially cut and even with the returned $7 million, I don't think Artspeak is going to confirm any publications for the upcoming year. 

Because Artspeak has been on multi-year funding with Gaming, we have this current year to enjoy one last grant. Next year (2011/12) our budget will be reduced by another 10% with the loss of that funding and not only does that impact publications but will require fewer programs in general (less talks, longer exhibitions, more modest installations).
 
Q - Small organizations seem to be particularly affected by cuts.  What are some things you have been hearing in terms of the impacts of the arts cuts?

Lack of sustainability; sliding backwards from the position they had achieved; looking to different models outside of the public sector which really shifts what ARC's (artist-run centres) politically stand for.
 
Q - Artist-run centres are often places where young and emerging artists show their work.  They are also important venues to show international artists outside the larger institutions.  How are the arts cuts affecting the ability of smaller institutions to have a space in the discussion vis a vis academic institutions, larger galleries, etc.?  

I think this remains to be seen, but my fear is that we become more regional. 

Publications are one way we can reach a wider audience and obviously cuts to those impact the way we disseminate ideas. Yes, the web is an important vehicle for extending our reach, but I believe that they are complimentary and do not work solitarily (i.e. our website supports our exhibitions and publications but is not a site that cannot be interchanged with either program). 

Healthy funding also meant that we could not only present international artists work at a high level, but we could work to present local and national artists in international contexts. For example, Artspeak has been attending the NY Art Book Fair for the last several years and I think this will be our last year. We have also been able to accept invitations to program at the Tate Modern in London or at Subvision Festival in Hamburg, bringing Vancouver artists and writers to those venues. With the funding cuts there is no room for these so-called "extras."
 
Q - With Vancouver's affordability and issues and now further cuts to arts budgets, is there a legitimate fear that artists will relocate from Vancouver and BC generally?

Yes. 

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