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The Globe and Mail

Atwood, McLachlan, Coupland join campaign against arts cuts

Members of Canada's arts elite are banding together to mount a high-level fight against recently announced cuts to arts funding in British Columbia.

Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland and Sarah McLachlan are among the artists named in a campaign being launched today. Organizers are hoping to use the star power to reverse what they say are devastating cuts to arts and culture funding.

"We felt these cuts were so outrageous that we were going to be able to get everybody instantly on side," said Lindsay Brown of Stop B.C. Arts Cuts. "Everybody I asked said yes."

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That includes Vancouver science-fiction author William Gibson, who writes on the new website: "As a futurist, someone with some experience in long-range scenario-based corporate and municipal planning, I've seen my share of jaw-droppingly shortsighted proposals. But these proposed cuts to support for the arts in BC ... really take the cake."

Late last month, hundreds of arts organizations were informed that they would no longer receive grants funded by gambling revenues from the provincial government. Festivals, theatre companies and galleries were stunned by the news.

Days later, that decision was reversed - but only for groups that had earlier received a multiyear commitment.

A full 44 per cent of the groups that had received the money last year received nothing this year, according to a submission to Vancouver City Council yesterday by the Alliance for Arts and Culture.

Those cuts are compounded by a drop in provincial funding for the arts outlined in this month's budget.

Ms. Atwood finds it maddening. "Why is the B.C. government cutting the throat of B.C.'s economy and its creative future in this short-sighted and frankly really dumb way?" she e-mailed The Globe and Mail yesterday.

Ms. Atwood joined the campaign after being recruited by Ms. Brown. (The Or Gallery, where Ms. Brown is a board member, lost out on a $30,000 grant.)

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"It takes an incredibly long time to reach a public figure, so one night in desperation, I tweeted her," Ms. Brown said. "And within about eight or 10 hours she had tweeted back, promising that she would do something."

She did. Ms. Atwood blogged about the issue on "What is it that power-hungry politicians want from artists? Control over the story through the annihilation of the former story-tellers? Is this the agenda behind the recent decapitation of arts funding in British Columbia, while mega-millions are poured into the Olympics?"

Ms. Atwood went on to predict the B.C. arts community would retaliate, and their efforts would "bite back" at Premier Gordon Campbell.

Those efforts include strategy meetings (the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance will hold one today) and protests (another one is planned for Monday).

Vancouver author Michael Turner ( Hard Core Logo) says he joined the effort because he's worried about the future of the B.C. Arts Council.

"Will the government back down? I'm not really sure. I don't know. And in some ways it is not the most important thing. I think the most important thing is to be talking about the value of the arts."

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