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Sorely Needed Optimism Injected into Literary Arts Funding Crisis

December 8th, 2009

The Chair of the BC Arts Council, Jane Danzo, recently shared some good news with those concerned about arts funding in B.C.

“Following a series of presentations from across B.C. and a written submission from Council,” she wrote in a recent news release, “the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services has unanimously recommended that the Province restore funding to the arts to 2008/09 levels.”

The final report of the Select Standing Committee offers 49 recommendations—ranging from health care and education to arts funding—while identifying public priorities for the 2010/11 provincial budget. But restoration of funding levels, even if it happens, will not rectify damage already done.

In a surprise move, the arts and culture sector of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts simultaneously withdrew all funding from BC BookWorld, the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. and the B.C. Association of Magazine Publishers in October of this year.

So why should a province concerned with debt be concerned the arts in general, and the literary arts in particular? As the Conference Board report, Canada’s Creative Economy, makes clear, and as echoed at the “Creative Industries: Drivers of Growth, Employment and Innovation” conference held in Athens in March of 2009, investments in the creative sector, including the literary arts, constitute needed infrastructure both for economic and social growth.

Rowland Lorimer, Director of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, says, “Such investments are as crucial to community well-being as investments in environmental sustainability are to the health of the planet. By now, every sophisticated government should know this.”

“Moreover, organizations such as the ABPBC make a vibrant and contributing industry out of an agglomeration of firms, while publications such as BC Bookworld allow British Columbians to come to know and maintain contact with the literary heritage being created by that industry.”

Rodger Touchie, president of the Association of Canadian Publishers, has called the 100% cutback to these groups “stunning both in its lack of foresight and the future impact that it will have on the growth of cultural tourism in western Canada. This is an industry that is largely self-sustaining and delivers a huge return on investment to the
provincial economy.”

“At a time when the federal government and provincial ministries across the country are reinforcing their commitments to the arts in general and book publishing programs in particular, this sudden abandonment of the literary community in B.C. and the negative impact it will have on cultural infrastructure in the foreseeable future leaves a stain on the province’s reputation that may be hard to remove.”

The provincial arts and culture budget was slashed from $19.5 million in 2008/09 to $3.6 million in 2009/10, and will be further reduced to $2.2 million for 2010/11. The budget of the B.C. Arts Council was radically cut from $8.3 million in 2008/09 to $3.4 million in 2009/10, and it is projected to drop to $1.5 million for 2010/11 and 2012. (This year it was propped up by $7 million in supplemental monies left over from last year and gaming money.)

The motto of the Coalition for the Defence of Writing and Publishing in B.C., with more than 600 members and counting, is “Keep B.C. Reading.” There are two key messages: 1) restore the funding to the three key organizations whose funding has been eliminated; 2) stabilize funding for the B.C. Arts Council at the 2008/09 level of $19.5 million.