A series of government-sponsored community festivals to retap the spirit of the 2010 Olympics is a way for cultural organizations to get over recent cutbacks in their funding, according to Tourism, Culture and Arts Minister Kevin Krueger.
"We do think it's important that these groups find new ways to build their sustainability. This is a new fund, and it will help a lot," Mr. Krueger said in an interview Wednesday, as he shed some public light for the first time on a controversial, three-year, $30-million program to stage so-called B.C. Spirit Festivals across the province.
The festivals, organized by local community arts councils, will be held in February to mark the anniversary of the Olympics, the minister said.
But the idea is already drawing fire from arts groups as a poor substitute for recent, severe cuts to the BC Arts Council and other cultural organizations. Critics also fear the government's involvement in the festivals will erode the arms-length relationship with the political world that they view as essential to artistic integrity.
"When there is direct, political determination of a government-funded program, there is always a potential that the scope of expression will be compromised," said Keith Higgins, director of the Pitt Gallery and a member of the Pacific Association of Artist-Run Centres.
Sandy Garossino of the Alliance for Arts and Culture's advocacy task force said the spirit festivals are being funded at the same time as existing, community-run festivals all over the province have had their grants slashed. "It's not new money," he said.
"You get the symphony orchestra in Prince George losing its funding to a spirit festival up there in February that celebrates the Olympic spirit," Ms. Garossino said. "Is that good use of taxpayers' money?"
Arts groups also complained they have few details of the new program, nor has there been any consultation with the minister. "It's all news to us," said Ms. Garossino. "We don't have any idea of the arrangements."
Mr. Krueger said he first trotted out the idea last April at a meeting of the Assembly of BC Arts Councils.
"People all over the room perked right up," he recalled. "They started writing things down. It got their creative juices flowing again."
The minister said spirit-festival proposals are to be forwarded to the BC Arts Council for scrutiny. "We hope to have funding committed by early fall," he said.
In the meantime, he promised that the bloom will return to the rose of government funding for the arts, as soon as the economy recovers. "When times were good, we were very generous. Right now, we just don't have that money," Mr. Krueger said. "Apparently, some of these groups budgeted as if their annual grants would go on forever. But in lean times, organizations have to change their approach."
Arts groups retort that, even in good times, B.C. ranked near the bottom of per-capita arts funding in Canada.
Mr. Higgins, a former business consultant who took a 60-per-cent drop in pay to run the Pitt Gallery, said public funding enables arts organizations to present their programs to a much wider audience. "Meanwhile, reports have shown that the major subsidy of the arts comes from the artists and cultural workers themselves, who accept little pay to deliver culture to the people of British Columbia."