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Arts Funding backlog leaves dance tours up in the air

A backlog of funding applications on the desk of Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore has left dance groups across the country looking at cancelling programming and scrambling to make provisional plans.

A number of members of the CanDance Network, an association of 31 specialized dance presenters, still have no answers to applications they submitted last April for funding for 2009-2010 projects. The wait is making it nearly impossible for them to arrange tours and performances, some of which are set to kick off mere weeks from now.

Meanwhile, the government is barrelling toward a March 31 deadline for funding approvals.

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The Vancouver East Cultural Centre, CanAsian Dance Festival, Dancing on the Edge, New Dance Horizons and the Brian Webb Dance Company are among the groups from across Canada that, just eight days before their new fiscal year begins, have yet to hear whether they will receive crucial funding through the federal Arts Presentation Canada program. The uncertainty has left these companies with a growing list of planning problems.

But even short-term hitches can create a maddening ripple effect, said Shannon Litzenberger, executive director of the Canadian Dance Assembly.

CanDance, which has applied for $70,000 from APC, is planning a tour exchange that would bring three Canadian artists and two international groups to perform at each of three Canadian dance festivals. But the planning ground to a halt while they awaited word on federal funding and much about the festival, which opens six weeks from tomorrow, remains up in the air.

The presenters, such as CanAsian Dance Festival, need to sign on as partners in the exchange before CanDance can begin contracting the artists. But CanAsian, which has typically received roughly 25 per cent of its budget ($40,000) from APC, is seeking $50,000 for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and is wary of committing to projects until it knows it has this last quarter of its budget locked up.

"If the money is not in, or if we're not successful ... it will certainly put us in a very bad position, one that we've never been in before."

We will have a deficit for the first time," said Adina Herling, general manager of CanAsian.

And CanDance has already secured funding from the Canada Council for the Arts domestic touring program to help with the artists' travel costs, but can't claim those dollars unless the artists sign contracts before March 31, which is the end of the

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federal government's fiscal year.

In an attempt to keep moving ahead, CanDance and its partners have begun drawing up contracts laden with contingency clauses to protect them if funding falls through. That has left small organizations like CanAsian standing on shifting financial ground.

The program officer responsible for CanAsian at Canadian Heritage told Herling the department was aiming to answer applications by Oct. 30, 2008, but then said three months ago that CanAsian's application had been passed on from her office and she has had no updates to offer since then.

Litzenberger said there have been years in the past when funding was heavily delayed, forcing organizations to spend on faith, but the program has run smoothly in recent years.

"Taxpayers expect both accountability and responsible management by government in the distribution of public funds. [This]is effectively hindering the impact of public investment in arts and culture," she said.

Deirdra McCracken, a spokeswoman for Moore, acknowledged the glut of applications yet to be processed.

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"We are doing our due diligence with each and every one. That said, we are endeavouring to meet the (March 31) deadline - no cause for worry," McCracken said in an e-mail.

"We are doing our job in ensuring this money is spent effectively and efficiently."

But the worries persist for Canadian dance groups.

Some CanDance members had their funding confirmed months ago, but that has only left those still hanging in the balance even more fretful that they are becoming less competitive with their counterparts.

"We need to be confirming our seasons now, our venues, the dates, and [not knowing our funding levels]just delays the process. It makes us less effective and certainly less efficient in doing our jobs. We may lose out if we don't sign on," said Mimi Beck, executive director of CanDance.

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