Lindsay Brown is the founder of Stop BC Arts Cuts
Q. The Chair of the BC Arts Council recently resigned. What was your reaction?
Jane Danzo’s resignation broke the logjam we’ve been stuck in for a year, so I was hugely relieved. She was a government appointee and she knows the premier personally, so her public stand against the Arts ministry was fairly explosive. It certainly won her the admiration of thousands of British Columbians concerned about arts and culture. Her letter of resignation protested two things: the government’s unreasonably devastating cuts to the B.C. Arts Council, and its political interference in B.C. arts and culture.
It’s worth mentioning here that on both points, B.C. is quite unique in Canada. No other province has made arts cuts like these, and many provinces have in fact increased funding. And compared to other provinces, the B.C. Arts Council has only ever had a weak version of a proper “arm’s-length” relationship with government. Some have jokingly called it “wrist’s-length.” When the government eroded the last of the Council’s independence, Danzo of course had little choice but to quit in protest. About two weeks after her resignation, undoubtedly partly the result of her resignation, the government reversed its cuts somewhat by re-allocating $7 million back into the Council. This is an inadequate amount, but at least it will help the Council save a number of organizations from collapse. The Council must now pressure government for a proper arm’s-length relationship, and they need to get it in writing.
Q. Small arts and cultural organizations that have an incredible amount of institutional memory, 30 or 40 year histories, are facing a deep crisis with these funding cuts. What are some of the impacts that you are hearing about?
These small B.C. organizations are effectively the cultural archives of the province. They preserve B.C.’s cultural history and allow successive generations to build on it. We’re not just talking about galleries and theatres but a wide diversity of community and regional institutions, including such things as small local museums. Cutting all of these community assets will have a devastating impact on B.C.’s self-image and cultural vibrancy. It’s quite surprising that the government is so willing to jeopardize organizations which, despite their small size and overly lean budgets, have put B.C. on the map, held communities together, and attracted tourism.
As for current impacts, right now of course some organizations are closing their doors and many others are on the verge of closing. The survivors just shrink, producing less and less programming. Often the first things to be cut are those that produce the greatest benefits — innovative and experimental programming, community outreach programs, free and affordable public programming, and cultural exchanges with regions beyond B.C. I hardly need to explain the importance of these things for B.C.’s cultural health. We are seeing the beginning stages of a cultural stagnation, and we know from history that this will have a stagnating effect on the social life and economy of the province.
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