Show Us The Money

(This post is a bit long, and might be boring if you’re not in/from BC, but it’s important.)
Seems appropriate on Labour Day to post about the recent developments to arts funding here in good old British Columbia, also variously known as the Left Coast, Lotusland, LaLaLand, and the province that, even before the recent, well-publicized cuts, dedicated the smallest per capita amount of arts funding out of all provinces in Canada. (That would be $9.67, compared to Alberta’s $20.81 or Ontario’s $20.91. With the recent addition we are sitting at $6.50 per capita. Allow that figure to sink in for a moment.)

Firstly, Labour Day, around the world, is an “annual public holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers, with origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.”
Eight hours for recreation AND eight hours for rest? Barmy! Imagine that!
I kid. But seriously, there is an important discussion to be had around the idea of artists as workers, or not, and the distinction between art as work or as recreation, or both, or neither, and if so, for whom, etc. A conversation that I hope we can collectively continue in the weeks and months ahead.
I’ve been working on a poem consisting of comments posted in the comment streams of various online news providers (though as usual McSweeney’s is way ahead of me), and one of my favourite lifted lines is as follows:

People are sick of artists expecting handouts.
Get out of the bed in the morinings [sic]
and go to work in the oil fields.
Hilarious, right? It sure sums up much of the opposition to arts funding, blithely ignorant though these “people…sick of artists expecting handouts” are of the many ways in which our government in/directly funds other industries, up to and including our friends at Big Oil.
And we had to wonder whether this reactionary negativity wasn’t also the attitude of our government (till very recently…perhaps.) Provincial arts funding in BC began to be slashed last year, we had that Olympics debacle in February, and then in August our government announced $10 million in new arts spending, in the form of….wait for it…BC Spirit Festival Days, a series of festivals designed to prolong the Shiny Happy Feelings we’re all purported to have experienced during the Olympics, otherwise known colloquially as WTF?
Arts organizations banded together, and people spoke out, including (my political crush, the elegant and eloquent) Spencer Chandra Herbert, Official Opposition Critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and an organization helmed by independent artists and arts orgs called Stop BC Arts Cuts—whose excellent website, blog and Twitter feed has kept Those of Us Who Want to Know up to date on recent actions and newsworthy developments—the grassroots Arts Advocacy BC, the British Columbia Alliance for Arts and Culture and many, many other organizations and individuals. Local alternative weekly The Georgia Straight has also done an excellent job of continuing to report on the situation.
On August 16, BC Arts Council Chair Jane Danzo resigned with an open letter to BC’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger, saying she “felt obliged to resign in order to have a voice;” damning the government’s establishment of an Arts Legacy Fund with no consultation whatsoever with the BC Arts Council, and questioning whether or not the relationship of the government to the BCAC Board was (as it should be, in a democracy) truly arm’s length.
Between then and now, it started to get weird, and personal, and weirdly personal, with Minister Krueger claiming to have been threatened by arts groups (with a rather unfortunate choice of words), and eligibility for gaming grants being reduced to “cowboys and country fairs” (I wish I was making this shit up.)
However, on September 1, $7 million was restored to the BCAC. Stop BC Arts Cuts’ phrasing “guardedly grateful” is apt:

Today’s announcement comes almost exactly a year after the retraction of Gaming funds for arts, part of new cuts totalling almost 91%. Those draconian cuts were somewhat reduced to between 50-60% in March, but that hasn’t lessened the emergency all that much and now many organizations are on the verge of closing. Gaming remains cut by approximately 55% or more. By Canadian standards today’s sum of $7 million is very, very small; it’s no wonder we as British Columbians have so little sense of our own identity and so little knowledge of our own culture compared to other provinces. BC governments chronically make inadequate investment – and it’s a lucrative investment, not a gift – in the BC cultural sector. But we do applaud the BC Liberals for beginning to do the right thing.

Beer Bottle Label From The Sick Brewery
So, in the grand Canadian tradition, I hope you’re kicking back with a few cold ones on this fine Labour Day, but I also hope you take the time to check out this Arts Advocacy Toolkit. Every little drop in the bucket and all.
Yrs. in solidarity,
Nikki Reimer is the author of one book of poetry, [sic]. She writes and rants in Vancouver.
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