re:Funding the Arts
by Diane Kadota
Recent cuts to arts funding in BC have had a terrible effect, threatening community arts organizations that have few other sources of funding to support their public programs and activities.
One such group is Katari Taiko, started 30 years ago by a group of young Asian Canadians eager to reclaim part of their cultural heritage lost during the war and the subsequent largely unconscious drive to assimilate.
Members volunteer their time, attending up to three weekly sessions to rehearse and develop original taiko music. Almost all of the group’s repertoire has been composed by former or current members and is performed in public at a professional level. Over the years, some Katari Taiko members have become professional musicians and composers. But becoming professional was not the intention of Katari Taiko as its music is firmly rooted in community development and outreach.
Community-based arts organizations like Katari Taiko must cover considerable costs including studio rental and storage, liability and instrument insurance, drum purchase and maintenance, costuming, venue and production costs. These organizations are largely volunteer-based. Existing grants tend to support new projects that are directed by paid, professional artists and do not fit the mandate of community arts groups.
Direct Access to Charitable Gaming, a funding program which was suspended last year, covered 30-40 percent of Katari Taiko’s expenses. The rest has been covered through earned revenue from festival, community and corporate performances and donations. In the performing arts, whether taiko, theatre, dance or chamber music, earned revenue seldom covers more than 30 per cent of the costs to create and present new work to the public. These costs continue to increase.
Funds through Direct Access are not guaranteed and although the department will be accepting applications for funding this year, there are questions regarding the level of funding that will be available, the increased competition for funds after a year of cutbacks and how applications will be assessed. Arts organizations have been encouraged to develop long term strategic plans through special infrastructure and organizational development programs but these seem bound to fail without a more stable financial environment and without greater support for and recognition of the value of the arts by federal and provincial leaders.
Arts and cultural organizations contribute enormously to the quality of life in British Columbia, not just for the wealthy who can afford to attend ticketed events but also to those who attend free events and festivals such as at the Heart of the City and Powell Street Festivals. Images, recorded music and live performances have been used to promote tourism and to launch major events, skytrains and businesses as well as to draw attention to issues of first nations, women, injustice and poverty.
Collaboration with other community-based artists helps overcome linguistic and cultural barriers, nurturing greater understanding of both our neighbours and our visitors. With major cutbacks to a community that is already stretched and overly dependent on the passion and the kindness of others, much of BC’s vibrant cultural life will be lost to residents, tourists and businesses alike.
The cuts to Arts and Culture are short-sighted and punishing to those who have been efficient, resourceful and responsible in contributing to the life and well being of communities in BC. We might well be entering another Dark Age. The light at the end of tunnel will be those of us living throughout BC who protest loudly that our music, our dance, our theatre and our visual arts be able to continue to nourish our minds, our bodies and our spirits and to reach across our borders.