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Creativity Counts

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Wedge Politics Strategy Seen In Loss of Investment In a Civil Society

Speaking on behalf of its 350 members and a growing province-wide coalition of arts and community service groups, the Greater Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture is calling on the provincial government, specifically Minister Rich Coleman of Housing and Social Development, to reinstate all the gaming funds previously used to support community services provided by charities and non-profits.

In advance of Friday’s BC Association for Charitable Gaming Symposium at Richmond’s River Rock Casino, Alliance executive director Amir Ali Alibhai said, “We are taking this opportunity to urge the BC government and Minister Coleman to properly fund charities and non-profits, as was promised when Gaming was expanded throughout BC.

“While the government of BC becomes increasingly addicted to the lucrative business of gambling at the expense of vulnerable British Columbians, and continues to expand its gaming activities, it has proceeded to break a social contract made with BC’s citizens,” Mr. Alibhai continued.

“Gambling was expanded in this province with the understanding that 33 percent of its profits would go back into communities to fund key social and community services. Currently this percentage has been eroded to 10 percent and important community infrastructures in the non-profit and charity sectors are crumbling.”

Mr. Alibhai acknowledged that there seems to be no hope of stopping neither the unprecedented expansion of gambling nor the social malaise that it creates.

He notes, however, that “we are forced to accept this source of funding for our sectors. We therefore demand a fair percentage of revenues for our communities. We also seek a more transparent manner of allocation of funds than we have witnessed of late.

“The risk of political agendas and motives affecting civil society is currently great. This massive pot of Gaming funds is currently distributed entirely at the ministry’s discretion, without transparency, consultation, or any type of arm’s-length process to ensure Gaming is not a political slush fund.

“The recent priorities announced by Minister Coleman suggest a strategy of wedge politics that we find disturbing.

“The BC government has increasingly put pressure on non-profit organizations, the pillars of a civil society, to deliver the social services it has gradually off-loaded, while cutting back its own financial support of those organizations. This is largely a result of an ideological strategy to cut corporate taxes while jumping on the cash cow that Gaming represents by taxing consumers. This addiction to gambling proceeds is not healthy and does not build a bright or better future for BC.

In making this announcement Mr. Alibhai outlined three key requests, that the government:

* Restore the funding previously provided through Gaming to civil society organizations, including the arts;

* Work with the BC Association for Charitable Gaming to negotiate and formalize an agreement to allocate at least 20 percent of all Gaming revenues to the charitable and non-profit sector so that services they provide to the public are sustainable for the future.

* Consult with community organizations from all sectors on priorities and eligibility criteria and processes for allocation of funds to civil society.

“It is not just about arts and culture, this is about the general future health of our province,” concluded Mr. Alibhai.

Alliance for Arts and Culture advocacy chair Sandy Garossino will be the keynote speaker at Friday’s BC Association for Charitable Gaming Symposium 2010, being held from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond. Ms. Garossino will speak on the topic of “Advocacy in a Challenging Time: We Can Work Together Toward A More Stable Future.”

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Acclaimed American theatre director Peter Sellars on the argument for financing culture. This is an excerpt from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston lecture, “Cultural Leadership in Difficult Times (Fighting off a Depression) or the Economics of Transcendence” presented on February 4, 2009. Part of The Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Celebrity Lecture series.

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British Columbia’s major arts organizations have joined forces in a mission to convince the BC government to show greater support for arts and culture.

The Assembly of BC Arts Councils, the BC Touring Council, the Vancouver-based Alliance for Arts and Culture, and the ProArt Alliance of Greater Victoria, through the “Creativity Counts” arts advocacy initiative, are recruiting “Community Arts Champions” in each of the province’s ridings to personally take the case for public investment to their local MLAs.

Collectively these organizations and their members represent thousands of artists and community arts groups.

Over the coming weeks, delegations representing community and professional arts organizations and their audiences, small business partners, volunteers, donors, and other supporters will convey to MLAs the benefits to society that a thriving cultural sector brings, and the vital role played by a long tradition of public support, ensuring accessibility for all British Columbians.

“Our goal with the Creativity Counts campaign and this Community Arts Champions initiative is to demonstrate the depth and reach of the arts sector in every community in BC,“ said Alliance for Arts and Culture executive director Amir Ali Alibhai in announcing the launch of the campaign.

“Our Community Arts Champions will seek to develop meaningful relationships with all MLAs from both political parties, and to demonstrate that public investment in the arts is crucial to the health of our communities everywhere in British Columbia,” Alibhai explained.

“Our creative sector, with the help of private and public investment, an independent jury process, as well as donor and volunteer commitment, has generated a cultural legacy that endures as a source of pride for all British Columbians. Now this legacy is seriously at risk,” noted Nelson-based BC Touring Council’s executive director Joanna Maratta in supporting the announcement.

“According to Statistics Canada, BC spends by far the least per capita on public investment for operating grants for arts organizations, compared to other provinces. After the recent cuts BC’s per capita investment in the arts is $6.54, while most recently available figure for the national average is $26.73.

“In most other jurisdictions, the tough economy has meant greater, not less, investment in community-based arts and culture spending. BC is one of the only jurisdictions where we are seeing severe cuts, and it just doesn’t make sense,” added Ms. Maratta.

Cuts to the arts have gone much deeper than cuts to other government services. Even though the province’s MLA’s on the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services unanimously recommended restoring arts funding to 2008-09 levels in the lead-up to last March’s budget, this year:

• The BC Arts Council was initially cut 53 percent from 2008/09, though part of those funds were restored recently, for which the community is very grateful;

• BC Gaming Commission funds for the arts were cut 58 percent from 2008/09;

• A $10 million annual supplementary fund has been created, of which 30 percent went to “spirit festivals,” while traditional festivals are seeing their grants severely slashed, and the rest of the supplemental fund was spent on restoring much of the initial cuts to the Arts Council;

• Total government investment in culture, (including the newly announced $10 million annual supplementary fund) was reduced by 32.4 per cent from the 2008/09 budget.

“When we meet with our MLA’s, we will talk with them about the 3.5 million British Columbians who go, or take their children or grandchildren to a museum, a public gallery, children’s festival, a music festival or theatre production, or those who enjoy the great BC writers and BC books and publications, or whose children dream of a future as a performer,’ said ProArt Alliance advocacy coordinator Peter Sandmark from Victoria.

“If present trends continue, many of these opportunities will vanish, because these organizations will shut down or reduce programming to a minimum, only to be rebuilt when a government has the foresight to re-invest in this vital sector of our society, Mr. Sandmark concluded.”

Anyone interested in participating in the Creativity Counts Community Arts Champions initiative should contact the Alliance for Arts and Culture’s director of communications at communications@allianceforarts.com.

Creativity Counts is an Alliance for Arts and Culture advocacy campaign with three goals:

• The soonest possible restoration of arts investment from all provincial government sources to the 2008/2009 levels;
• The ultimate increasing of stable, arms-length investment in the arts to at least the national average; and
• The development, by the cultural community, of a position paper to be presented to all political parties and stakeholders as a starting point for the creation of a comprehensive and sustainable arts funding policy for British Columbia.

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Des McAnuff
Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

When I was 10 years old, a teacher took me and another member of my class to a Picasso exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was my first introduction to the idea that art need not be literal: that something’s essence may be captured by a radical departure from its superficial appearance. That exhilarating early discovery fired my imagination and completely changed my life.

Eye-opening encounters with art are essential parts of our education. They are as important as the classes we take, the exams we pass, the degrees, diplomas and certificates we earn. Arguably, they are more important, for they teach us not just how to be doctors or lawyers or plumbers or pilots, but how to perceive beyond surfaces, to think in unconventional ways, to approach life’s mysteries with intuition and imagination.

Education is about far more than memorizing and regurgitating facts, writing essays and solving mathematical equations. It is about inspiring young minds (and old ones too) to explore ourselves and the world in which we live. While such inspiration does not come exclusively from the arts, it is often through the arts that we first experience it.

Finish the article here.

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For other “Saved by Art” posts, click here.

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I am a multi award-winning director, actor and the co-founder/Artistic Director of one of Vancouver’s most enduring independent theatre companies Ruby Slippers Theatre. We have, for twenty-one years now, produced and created smart social satire that is infectiously entertaining and relevant. We have a national tour coming up of our latest production A Beautiful View, and over fifty Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards to our credit.

Without a comprehensive music and theatre program at my junior and senior highschools, there is no question that I would have spent those formative years doing things self-destructive and ultimately socially destructive.

Learning to become a positive, contributing and active member of society starts as a child and is fostered by our education system. An education without a strong arts component is no education at all.

Diane Brown
Artistic Director
Ruby Slippers Theatre

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A cultural economics that captures the value of the arts has to understand value in use, and that involves broader ways of understanding ourselves and our world, for instance, anthropology and environmentalism. The value in use of the arts is that they help a society make sense of itself. They generate the symbols and rituals that create a common identity—that is why art and religion are so closely linked. Like religion, the arts give access to the spiritual. Art is a link to previous generations, and anchors us to history. Culture is a social language that we would be dumb without.

Read entire article here.

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In the face of almost daily announcements of arts funding cutbacks across the province, former BC Arts Council chair Jane Danzo has released the content of her letter of resignation, officially submitted Monday to Lori Wannamaker, deputy minister of tourism, culture and the arts.

Mrs. Danzo’s resignation had been announced last Thursday in an internal ministry document, and Stanley Hamilton named as interim chair.

“With respect and with regret, I felt obliged to resign in order to have a voice” Mrs. Danzo’s said in her resignation, addressed to the Honourable Kevin Krueger, minister of tourism, culture and the arts.

Mrs. Danzo’s letter went on to cite the lack of consultation around the creation of the Arts Legacy Fund, the government’s rejection of the recommendation of its own Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services that arts funding be restored to 2008/2009 levels, and the lack of a real arms-length relationship with the government as evidence that the BC Arts Council Board does not “have a voice independent of government”.

“All these and other factors led to my conviction that I had to step down in order to effectively speak up” Mrs. Danzo said in releasing her letter.

Alliance for Arts and Culture executive director Amir Ali Alibhai congratulated Mrs. Danzo on her decision.

“We appreciate and applaud Jane’s courage and integrity in taking this step” said Mr. Alibihai. “The arts community is without question in crisis, and to have someone of Mrs. Danzo’s position and stature stand up and speak truth to power on our behalf is a major development and source of encouragement.

“Our own voices of protest and concern can be ignored and discounted, but her’s cannot.

“Some arts organizations that have recently seen large funding cuts are afraid to speak out for fear losing further funding opportunities. That this fear is well-founded is itself distressing and is a sad reflection of our entire political and bureaucratic reality. Ms. Danzo’s speaking out on behalf of the creative sector will help unite our community and strengthen our ongoing advocacy efforts” concluded Mr. Alibhai.

The full text of Mrs. Danzo’s letter to Minister Krueger follows.

JANE DANZO’S LETTER OF RESIGNATION

Dear Minister Krueger,

Thank-you for your kind words in last week’s press release that announced my resignation from the British Columbia Arts Council.

I was very proud to have been appointed to the BC Arts Council and even more so to have been appointed Chair. I consider it a privilege to have been asked to serve the government for the past four years.

While my resignation may have seemed sudden, I had been considering stepping down for some time.

With respect and with regret, I felt obliged to resign in order to have a voice. In my opinion, the work of The B.C. Arts Council Board, has not been supported by government on a number of different levels.

According to the Arts Council Act, Council is defined as not more than 15 members, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The Charter of the BCAC further identifies the appointees as “the Board”. The Act stipulates that the Board’s main purpose is to provide support for the arts and culture sector in British Columbia. In November 2009, Council (board and staff) made a submission to the Committee on Finance and Governmental Services regarding BCAC funding for the following year. Council recommended that the government return to an appropriation for the BCAC and restore its funding to 08/09 levels.

This recommendation, which was echoed by the submissions of artists and arts organizations province-wide, was supported by the government’s own committee who brought it forward for consideration in the March budget. The government rejected its committee’s strong recommendation for restoration. The devastating impact of that decision is now being felt by artists and arts organizations throughout the province as they receive notification of substantial cuts to their core funding.

Instead of restoring the funding to the BCAC, the government announced the establishment of an Arts Legacy Fund- a surprise as much to the Board as to the arts community. Even after the announcement, the Board was not consulted for input, nor was it permitted to know the details as they were developed by ministry staff over a four month period.

Meanwhile, the arts community struggled, some members with life-threatening uncertainty, as they reduced their programming, laid off staff and made poignant appeals to patrons and donors for further support. And the Board remained awkwardly silent until the government released more information about the Arts Legacy Fund.

The Act also specifies that the Board support arts and culture through advocacy. This responsibility is virtually impossible to accomplish because the Board’s relationship to government is not at-arms –length. It has neither its own funding nor its own staff. It is dependent upon budget allocation for funds and ministry employees for human resources, both managed by a government employee. Furthermore, it has recently been made clear that the Board does not have a voice independent of government. The only independence the Board has from government is defined by the granting process.

The Board members of the BCAC are chosen for, among other qualifications, their areas of expertise and their knowledge of the sector. Collectively, they represent a broad range of board experience that includes not-for profit, public sector and corporate boards. Given the issues I have identified, it would not be surprising if such capable volunteers were to become frustrated, even disillusioned. I believe that unless government is more consultative, and makes significant organizational changes, it will be difficult to attract and retain qualified candidates for Board positions on the BCAC.

I strongly recommend that the government and the Board review the models used in some of the other provincial jurisdictions where their arts councils are at –arms- length from government; where they are respected for their expertise and judgment and where, as a result, the arts and culture sectors are better served. Surely such co-operation could produce only beneficial results for the B.C. arts community.

Minister Krueger, you have been a strong advocate for increased funding to the BCAC , and, more broadly, for the arts and culture sector of British Columbia. I am very grateful for that support, and, on behalf of the community, I thank-you very much.

Yours very truly,
Jane M. Danzo

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