A $75,000 provincial grant recently awarded to the District of Mission for its 120th anniversary celebration has taken the community by surprise, since it appears nobody applied for the money.
The funds arrived in the form of a letter dated March 13 from the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Ida Chong, congratulating Mission on its 120th anniversary and stipulating celebration details be provided by May 16.
But nobody in local government had applied for the grant, said Mission’s deputy administrative officer Paul Gipps.
As it turns out, Mission has qualified as one of several communities eligible for part of $800,000 in funding announced March 22 by Chong for B.C. communities celebrating a 25th, 50th, 100th, 120th or 150th anniversary.
Gipps said the municipality did not question how or why the money was awarded, but decided not to spend it all on the event.
“The choice to put it into something that goes beyond just the one day or the one year celebration is far more important,” he said, adding the province’s letter did not state how the money had to be spent.
Of the $75,000, the district has planned to allocate $35,000 to the Clarke Theatre for equipment upgrades, $30,000 to arts and culture grants which will be awarded in September after an application process, and $10,000 for the actual Sept. 29 120th community celebration.
Nancy Arcand, executive director for the Mission Arts Council (MAC), said although money should go directly through the B.C. Arts Council (BCAC), she’s pleased the district is taking the initiative to disburse them to non-profits or arts and culture.
“The arts has been chopped and slashed and brutalized over the last three or four years and you often wonder if these are little carrots,” she said, before stressing the arts community is nevertheless grateful.
Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP critic for arts and culture, questioned Chong about the issue in the legislature on Tuesday.
“It was a surprise to me because for months [Chong] has been saying there’s more applications for arts money than there is money, yet here we have a case where there was no application and the minister sent money,” said Herbert, who has also been asking Chong for details of the remainder of the $10 million Sports and Arts Legacy Fund from 2010.
The province awarded $6.75 million to the BCAC from that fund, but much of the remainder has been a mystery until recently, when Herbert said the province was scrambling to spend the leftover $3 million before the end of the fiscal year. Herbert says there is still $2.4 million that has been allocated without public disclosure.
When he called the ministry and asked how they decided to disburse some of the funds, Herbert said he was told ministry staff went through communities’ incorporation dates and decided if they met certain milestone years that they would receive funding.
Kevin McKeown, communications director of the B.C. Alliance for Arts and Culture, said he is reserving opinion until they discuss the matter with other arts organizations, but it raises long-term questions about funding.
“There’s no grant application process, there’s no transparency in the decision-making, and there’s no arms-length administration. It’s all just done right, seemingly, off the minister’s desk,” he said.
Although requests for comment from Chong went unanswered, a government press release states her ministry met its commitment of $16.8 million in funding to the BCAC in 2011-12 and that a complete list of funded projects will be available in the Public Accounts records of the legislature in early July.
“After meeting those commitments, the ministry was given access to approximately $3 million remaining to support arts and culture projects that are not generally funded by BCAC,” the release reads.