Mission arts groups happy about funding news

B.C. has the lowest per capita funding for arts in Canada, says Xavier

The news that provincial gaming grants will be partially restored has come as a welcome relief to several non-profit and arts groups in Mission.

The Mission Folk Music Festival lost nearly $65,000 in gaming grants a year ago, and a total of about $110,000 in funding that came via other organizations, leading to questions whether it could be held this year.

“It’s good to hear the government state that it made a mistake when it cuts the arts,” said Francis Xavier, long-time festival organizer, before adding there’s still a long way to go before full funding is restored.

The total fund remains at $135 million, where it was set by Premier Christy Clark last year, but well below its 2008 peak of $156 million.

“B.C. has the lowest per capita arts funding of any province in Canada,” said Xavier. “Just to reach the national average the province would have to infuse more than $50 million into the arts.”

Many local community groups have relied on gaming grants money as a critical budget item.

The Mission District Historical Society was forced to go to the district in November to ask for help covering an $11,000 budgetary shortfall caused by $25,000 in cuts.

And although the news seems to signal a change of heart from the government, society director Joan MacLatchy is cautiously optimistic.

“It essentially restores the funding to the level that it was at before last year, but it is also adding a number of groups to the mix of people who can apply for the funding.”

It’s not clear whether that is better or worse for the society, said MacLatchy.

Nancy Arcand, executive director of the Mission Arts Council (MAC), says when she spoke to representatives from the government last Thursday, they told her that it will be looking at prioritizing organizations who had funding decreased in 2009, not the ones that are once again eligible.

That doesn’t mean she’s jumping for joy.

“I’ll believe it when I see it. But, we’ve been sustainable through this and hopefully this will just be an added increase to what we can provide to the community.”

MAC had $30,000 cut from its budget by the province in 2009, forcing Arcand to lay herself off and work for the council for free. That shortfall was mitigated partially by receiving a permissive tax exemption on rent from municipal council.

Then in 2010 MAC received $15,000 in restored funding.

“Even though $15,000 doesn’t sound like a lot to people, that’s a huge crunch for us.”

Xavier says the arts deserves a stronger investment from the province, not only for the community benefit, but because it provides a high rate of return.

“The arts creates twice as many jobs as forestry does in Canada, but forestry is more highly subsidized.”

He said local arts cuts have a compounding effect, making it harder to apply for grants outside the province.

“Why should foundations and other organizations invest in a province or a community that cannot, or will not, invest in itself?”

After last year’s cuts to the folk festival, Xavier said he put on the festival at a financial loss, gambling on the gaming grants coming back for 2012.

“That’s happened and that’s a good sign for us,” he said.