Chair of Alliance for Arts & Culture Advocacy Committee responds to MLA Ron Cantelon

This letter is in response to MLA Ron Cantelon’s remarks to the Times-Colonist, Saturday Aug 21:

Dear Ron,

I have just read your comments about arts cuts in the Victoria Times Colonist.

Normal business practice–which is my background–would strive to achieve proportionality between savings and sacrificed services. Ideally the prudent budget process would seek minimal impact for maximum savings–or the closest thing to it.

In the case of arts cuts, the savings have been negligible–less than one-thousandth of the provincial budget. Yet the inherent structure of the non-profit arts model will result in severe damage across all BC communities. This is a complete inversion of rational governance.

It’s plain that the government believes that the impact will be small, contained, and limited to the arts sector only, rather than the public at large. This belies a failure to grasp what is at stake. Organizations that fail will not reappear. Communities across the province will lose longstanding beloved emblems of their local character.

If the public circumstances were dire, and savings very substantial, most people would join together in sacrifice. But the savings are minute to the point of being inconsequential to the provincial budget, the cuts are disproportional to those experienced in other sectors, and there has been no genuine attempt by the ministry to measure or anticipate the harm to the public interest. It has only been guessed at.

In the business world this doesn’t meet fundamental management standards.

Another accepted business practice is to phase in major policy changes over time. Broad system-wide review followed by an 18-24 month horizon is fairly typical for large scale shifts affecting a range of independent stakeholders. This allows affected sectors to prepare for major change at least a fiscal year in advance, so they can maintain stability and continue to deliver their core service.

In this case there has been no adjustment period. Most organizations received their BCAC grant results in the last 10 days, but their seasons start in a matter of weeks. A number of them went all out for the Olympics, and many are still carrying unanticipated debt associated with their participation. Others operate very close to the line, carrying lines of credit and balancing from season to season. There is just no opportunity to plan or adjust.

The arts sector is after all a business sector, and deserves to be treated as one. Its members follow generally accepted accounting practices, manage revenues, payrolls and expenses over multi-year horizons, work hard to maximize revenues and savings from all sources, and frequently plan programming and enter contractual engagements 2 years or more into the future.

It’s impossible for arts organizations to service their communities without the full participation of volunteers, donors, small business contributions, sponsors, and audience ticket support. Accessing and coordinating these resources takes administration time, expertise, office space, computers, phones, etc. This is the small part of every arts organization that sustains the other 90-95% of revenue sources, and THIS is the part that public support provides.

Remove this piece, and the entire structure is threatened. This is especially true if you take that piece out suddenly, rather than phasing your policy shift in over time.

It is for these and other reasons, as well as the strong province-wide expression of public support, that your government’s own Standing Committee on Finance and Public Services unanimously recommended the restoration of arts funding.

The Metro Vancouver board unanimously recommended the same.

And the chair of the BC Arts Council has now resigned in protest against political interference and the severity of the cuts.

I do ask you to re-consider your remarks, which suggest that you are going mainly from a gut feel rather than an informed position. Any one of the many members of the public who volunteer, fundraise for, and loyally attend arts events in your constituency can point you to a knowledgeable source of information.

Or you could just watch Frank Moher’s youtube videos.

Best regards,
Sandy Garossino
Chair, Alliance for Arts and Culture Advocacy Committee