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Former arts official condemns B.C. government

Former B.C. Arts Council chair Jane Danzo.

Jane Danzo, who resigned unexpectedly Aug. 10 as chair of the British Columbia Arts Council (BCAC), says she had to step down in order to speak freely about her concerns over arts funding in the province.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Danzo cited the failure of the Campbell government to consult with the Council, and said her year as chair was "extremely difficult" and "stressful," as she and the Council were forced to deal with funding cuts while their recommendations to restore funding to the BCAC were ignored.

"I wanted to bring to the government's attention that these are serious concerns that I had, and the only way that I could really make a statement was by stepping down," she said from Victoria on Tuesday.

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Danzo, 69, past president of Pacific Opera Victoria and a long-time supporter of the arts, resigned last week, about 11 months after being appointed chair. In her letter of resignation, Danzo says the work of the Arts Council board was not supported by the provincial government on a number of levels. She highlights the government's decision to ignore a BCAC recommendation - echoed by the bipartisan standing committee on finance - to restore Arts Council funding to 2008-09 levels in the budget last March. Instead, funding to the BCAC was cut to $7.9-million from $19.5-million in 2008-09.

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At the time, the government also announced the establishment of a controversial Arts Legacy Fund - a surprise to the BCAC, which learned of the decision, along with arts organizations and the rest of the public, on budget day.

Danzo was "extremely disappointed" by the budget announcements, and said the Arts Legacy Fund was the kind of initiative she should have been aware of ahead of time. "In the best scheme of things I would have expected that somehow or other the board would have been given a heads-up through the council management."

While very few details were available about the new $30-million fund at budget time, it has recently emerged that the money will go towards funding BC Spirit Festivals, to be held in February across the province for three years ($10-million each year) to mark the anniversary of the Olympics.

Like many in the arts community, Danzo feels the money could have been better spent.

"The Arts Legacy Fund has been touted as the government's idea to celebrate and create a lasting legacy of the Cultural Olympiad," she said. "That was an event that introduced the richness of our B.C. culture to the world, and I would have perhaps suggested that that money be directed to sustaining the work of the artists and organizations that made it all possible. These artists and arts organizations allow the depth of talent in British Columbia to emerge, so it's vital that we keep their work supported. That to me would be a legacy."

Danzo said a better option would have been to re-establish something like the $25-million B.C. Arts Renaissance Fund, created in 2005, which provided matching grants to leverage endowment funds for arts organizations. "I think that would have created the kind of legacy that B.C. really needs.

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But her recommendations were not implemented, she said. "I felt I had to step down in order to speak out about the failure of the government to follow through with a consultative process that would have been expected."

In addition to being blindsided by the budget, Danzo and her board were also forced to figure out how to distribute the diminished funds to arts organizations around the province.

"[It]was devastating for council to have to come up with strategies that would seem fair to the arts community in terms of awarding the reduced amount of money that we were given to award. It was extremely stressful for council to have to work out a formula that we thought was fair, and given the financial constraints. Because ... of the impact statements that had been submitted to government by various arts organizations, we knew that it would have an equally devastating impact on those whom we were supposed to be supporting."

Indeed, many in the arts community say the situation remains bleak, and express concerns about further cutbacks and layoffs as organizations around the province, including Ballet Victoria and the Victoria Symphony, receive notification of substantial cuts to their funding.

In her letter, Danzo also expresses concern about the lack of an arms-length relationship between the provincial government and the BCAC. Whereas arts councils elsewhere in the country enjoy some administrative independence, the BCAC does not have its own staff or funding, making it difficult, Danzo says, for the BCAC to perform its advocacy role properly.

"It's a conflict. We have no staff. It's all Ministry," she said. "As a government appointee, it makes it extremely difficult to keep asking for more money from the government because you're representing the government ... so you're biting the hand that feeds you."

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Danzo said her resignation was met with surprise from Deputy Minister Lori Wanamaker. As of Tuesday morning, she had not yet spoken to Tourism, Culture and Arts Minister Kevin Krueger, who was on vacation.

"I have a great deal of respect for Minister Krueger. I think that he has been a strong advocate for the arts. I think it's been very difficult for him throughout all of this; it's been a tough couple of years. But [my resignation is]not a protest. It's simply to be able to speak, and speak on issues that I think are quite critical.

"I may have blotted my copybook with the government, but I don't want it to [appear]that way. This isn't anger. It's disappointment. And concern."

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