Demand to BC Govt: put the remainder of arts funding $ into arts, & at arms length from government

Ida Chong, giving out funds without transparent process or arms length from gov’t

Update March 30, 2012:

We have sent out the following media release and cc’d Minister Ida Chong and the media:

$3.2 Million in Budgeted Arts Funds at Risk

Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development has admitted that $3.2 million in arts funds is still not distributed, and no process or program exists for its orderly disbursement.

With BC flagship cultural institutions closing their doors and audiences squeezed between rising living expenses and stagnant incomes, it is critical that these budgeted arts funds be distributed prior to the fiscal year end on March 31, 2012. If the minister fails to distribute these funds, they will be absorbed back into provincial general revenues and lost to the arts and communities.

We, Arts Advocacy BC and members of the BC arts community call on Minister Chong to immediately release the arts funds remaining in her portfolio to the BC Arts Council by midnight, March 31.

____________________________________________________________

There is now only one week left for Minister Ida Chong to spend the major part of $3.2 million that had been allocated for arts. During this year of crisis in the arts sector, this money has gone unspent. Now, with a week left until the government’s fiscal year end, she is covertly spending this money — arts money –on such things as higher education. There is no process, no application system, only the minister’s “discretion.” There is a reason why governments are supposed to remain at arms length from art: to prohibit arts money from being used strategically for their own interests (slush funds), and to prohibit the politicization of art. This is Democracy 101.

Meanwhile, look where some of these funds are going. “Municipal anniversary celebrations.” One-time money to arts organizations so that they can “celebrate” their municipality. So the BC and municipal governments can decide what kind of art the BC arts and culture should be making? This has the strong smell of “slush fund” about it, whether it is or not, but the BC government must not even give the impression of politicizing art.

Kevin Falcon said in January that the BC Liberals had made a mistake and cut BC arts far too aggressively. Let’s see the Liberals put our money where their mouth is and deal with arts funds properly:

1. Spend them on the arts, not things other than arts.

2. Put them in a body that can spend them at arms-length from government, as is done in the other provinces.

3. Make BC Arts Council fully arms length from government, the way arts councils are in other provinces, not the current “wrist length.”

WE DEMAND THESE ACTIONS OF OUR GOVERNMENT. Does it consider itself legitimate and above board? Then it must act now to repair its reputation, its processes, and the BC arts and culture sector.

Arts on the back burner in British Columbia

Great video by Bill Horne, who in 2009 also produced the well-known photos of BC workers supporting the arts – miners, farmers, loggers, pulp mill workers. Here he gives us a revealing history of the way arts have been ping-ponged from ministry to ministry over many decades. “It’s time for a Ministry of Culture in British Columbia. Period.”

BC Arts Sector Crisis 2012 – The dam’s springing leaks. What can you do?

In the past fortnight alone, Stop BC Arts Cuts has been pressured to respond to all of the following crises in BC arts. (And we’ve been asked to respond to them in a myriad different ways, too—via the media, through advocacy with government, and/or with public advocacy actions):

•  The discovery that Minister Ida Chong has been sitting on $3.2 million for at least a year. It’s money left over from Gordon Campbell’s non-arms-length “Spirit Festival” slush fund, which had more or less been taken out of BC Arts Council. Minister Chong has belatedly started to distribute it without any arms-length oversight—there’s only 2 weeks left to get rid of it or it’s reabsorbed into general revenue, apparently. Now we find it’s being shovelled into higher education, not arts;
•  The ongoing lack of arts support via BC Arts Council in the recent Budget BC;
•  Extreme uncertainty over BC gaming grants. There’s no assurance of long-term stable funding from that quarter—not to mention lack of arms length process for that funding. (Also, we are being pressured to take legal action against the BG govt for flouting the 1999 Memorandum of Agreement promising 33% of gaming revenues to BC charities and non-profits, a portion we have never seen);
•  The closure of the Vancouver Playhouse, Vancouver’s flagship civic theatre & supporter of many smaller theatres;
•  The closure of Vancouver’s Ridge Theatre for repertory film and a historic Vancouver Int’l Film Fest venue;
•  The unaffordability crisis in Vancouver (Vancouver having just been rated the most unaffordable city in the world after Hong Kong);
•  accelerating brain & talent drain out of BC (due to aforementioned lack of govt arts investment, as well as unaffordability of housing and studio/performance spaces);
•  The threat of closure of the Rio Theatre thanks to BC/Vancouver’s antiquated liquor laws & other idiocies;
•  The Rize development in Vancouver and ongoing similar threats to art spaces and affordable living;
•  The loss of BC film shoots and jobs to Ontario due to BC govt disinterest and mismanagement;
•  Spectre of cuts in federal funding also, despite stated commitment from James Moore (update: announcement on March 21 for CAPF funds doesn’t necessarily mean stable Canada Council funding);
•  Other issues not coming immediately to mind amidst the above chaos.

After the radical cuts of 2009 we all knew this day would eventually come.  And now here it is.  The dam is not going to hold.  Fact.

Does the BC government want to develop its own creative and arts sectors—one of the globe’s top growth sectors—or not? The answer is obvious.

Stop BC Arts Cuts is simply unable to respond to all of these crises individually. Not with any comprehensiveness.

Quick review of advocacy in the past few years

A number of us began doing volunteer arts advocacy in 2009, immediately following the drastic gaming grant cuts.

Since 2009 we have had precisely zero funding. That’s partly because there’s no funding to be had, but it’s also because by remaining unfunded we enjoyed the freedom to be outspoken. This is a freedom that most arts service organizations and associations do not enjoy. However, being unfunded means that we can’t respond to everything, because like most of you, we also have other jobs.

We could better respond to each issue if we received more help from you. (There is a list of possible actions you can take in the list below.)

As it is, we have had to pick our battles. The fight against the the mega-casino in Vancouver took up much of our energy throughout 2010 – 2011. Why did provincial arts advocates fight a casino in Vancouver? Despite the fact  that that fight was fought in Vancouver geographically, it was actually fought on behalf of all BC arts and charities. It was a direct response to the BC-wide gaming cuts to arts and charities, and even more than that it was a demonstration to the BC govt that the BC arts sector has muscle and will be ignored at a cost. We did it because we had already tried every other means of getting the BC govt’s attention and nothing had worked. Polite meetings, letter campaigns, rallies, tough talk. So we stopped the giant casino. It was tit for tat: you cut BC arts and charities out of the gaming revenues to which they are legally entitled, and we will cut your casino project. 

We won that fight, and though we still haven’t seen a restoration of investment in the arts sector, the BC government is fully aware that they made a mistake, that we are deadly serious, and that we could strike again. We are on our way to re-emphasizing this point during the run-up to the next BC election in May 2014. We are non-partisan, but we will strike at any government or party that does not address this crisis. No BC party has ever had a particularly good record with the arts. We aim to change that.

For starters there are vulnerable ridings out there. Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack in particular. We will mobilize there in unexpected ways, if we have to. With your help. If you live there, please contact us ASAP.

Over the coming year BC arts are going to have to be both very active and very clever. We are working on some tactical maneuvers but we also need everyone’s participation, and lots of it.

We know: you don’t have time. We recognize that you don’t, but neither do we. We will all either have to make time or we pack up and leave BC. As so many others have recently done.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

•  Do you live in a riding where a tight race is likely? Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack in particular? Contact us.
•  If you have do-able advocacy ideas, please put them forward — and if possible, spearhead them or recruit someone else to. Make sure they are designed to demonstrate the sheer power (and wit) of the arts sector.

•  When local candidates declare candidacy for BC election, bombard them with questions about their party’s arts platform & their personal commitments. Do it in person, by phone, via email, skywriting, shaving cream, scented stationery, whatever.  If they don’t show up at art events, if they only tweet about sports, remind them nicely. Remember that honey is better than vinegar. 
•  Write your MLA. Regularly. Keep it short. Don’t know who your MLA is, don’t know the premier’s email? Google “BC MLA Finder.” Tell them simply that arts = jobs, that BC needs a creative sector for tourism or economics or social health or education or any other good argument. It doesn’t matter – all are good. Just write. The BC arts sector writes fewer letters to MLAs than other sectors do.
•  Write articles for us. Do you have a sense of the landscape and history of arts policy in BC? Do you have an analysis of/solution to the current situation? Comprehensive, accurate comparisons with other provinces are particularly useful. Relevant articles can go onto the SBCAC and Arts Advocacy BC websites. We can also try to get them into the press as op-eds etc.
•  Want  a petition or letter-writing campaign or something else? Propose some wording. Draft something. We’ll edit it for you.
•  If you know how to produce a one-click online letter widget or poll etc. for any of our wordpress sites, we can use you. We’re looking for reliable, expert people who work independently and have initiative.
•  Want to see infographics or data? Please research the data, do the infographics or help us find someone who can. This type of help is invaluable. We especially need people in economics who can do econometric stuff or look at/do impact studies.
•  Know someone funny? In film, acting, video, performance? Writing? Get them involved. This fight needs to be funny & entertaining, Quebec style (see video below). Note: A self-righteous or self-dramatizing tone doesn’t fly in BC. The arts sector is prone to that but it convinces no one.

Everyone can geet involved. The more the merrier. Because

200 mice can do more damage than one lion.

Email us. stopbcartscuts at paarc d0t com

The BC arts crisis must be forced onto the agenda for the election.

PS Remember this video (above) from 2007? It’s very specifically about cultural funding in Quebec, but it’s a great example of entertaining arts advocacy. It went viral and played a role in  ensuring Stephen Harper didn’t win a majority in the previous federal election. Quebec’s very sophisticated film industry produced it, but we ought to be able to make something equally clever in BC.

Above, July 2011, Dutch orchestra plays across the water at government buildings in the Hague. That was an eloquent protest.

Letter #3 on Rize condo development, from directors of 221A Artist-run Centre


221A Artist-Run Centre, Vancouver

Letter from Brian McBay and Allison Collins 221a Artist-Run Centre, on the subject of the RIZE Development in Mount Pleasant, Vancouver’s current affordability crisis and consequent difficulty sustaining its art community. 221A is a member of PAARC, Pacific Association of Artist-Run Centres, and this letter was first published by PAARC.

Mar 1, 2012

Dear Mayor and City Council,

Subject: CD-1 Rezoning: 228-246 East Broadway and 180 Kingsway.

We are writing to express concern regarding the rezoning application
put forward by Rize, and brought to Public Hearing along with the City
Council Policy Report RTS No.: 8840.

http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20120131/documents/p5.pdf

We write to you as an organization in Chinatown, just off Main street
with 7000 square feet of artist studios and 2000 square feet of
presentation space for three different non-profit organizations,
providing studios to over 30 artists and public access to contemporary
art and design.

We feel it is important to convey to you that the continued
development of podium-tower style condominiums is an invariable threat
to our operations. As the City makes efforts to relax zoning for
artists and arts organizations, it also remains committed to
ineffective design that continues to preclude mixed-income
communities. Artists and arts organizations thrive in an environment
that can support varied income levels. It is a necessity that costs of
living remains affordable in the Mount Pleasant area – as those who
work, present, speak, perform, build and think in our spaces must also
have somewhere affordable to live.

The City, presumably since the enactment of Larry Beasly’s Living
First policy, has looked to density as a means of bringing people
together in a promise of the powerful overlap of diverse communities.
However, while condominium towers have quite successfully increased
the density of Vancouver, the diversity of residents and the type of
public activities have been truncated substantially.

The Rize development at Kingsway and Broadway, in its latest
manifestation, makes a commitment to increase pedestrian interaction – depicting vibrant multi-ethnic groups engaging in shopping and leisure
activities – not the ‘vertical gated communities’ that have become
categorically gentrifying forces downtown. However, we think that the
unadorned glass and concrete building physically, financially, and
culturally limit the activities of the neighbourhood. The building’s
main threshold will be the garage door–where 300 cars will make their
way underground before beeping up to their isolated homes.

The flat, and unified commercial storefronts Rize proposes will follow
within a tradition of indistinguishable condominium buildings in
Vancouver – why are we so committed to this type of architecture and
this model of density? Only substantially financed enterprises will be
able to afford the rates for the commercial units, not entrepreneurs
from Mount Pleasant, nor non-profit organizations like ours. In
reading the recommendations in your report we can only assume that
this is condoned by City staff who are making recommendations that
value expedited density over an engaged design and development process
that responds to the needs and desires of its environment.

Adding new residents to community is not an unwelcome gesture. As
relatively new members of the community in Chinatown, we understand
that a neighbourhood must allow for portions of change, but we also
respect and value the context in which we find ourselves. We have
worked to create a presence in the community that has developed over
time through mindful observation and slow growth. Our approach
acknowledges certain constraints–facade, noise levels, street
presence–while making the most of what is available–the diverse
culture and history, architecture, affordable rent and an active
community. We chose this location consciously. It is a desirable area
in proximity to viable residences as well as a cluster of other art
centres.

As members of this community, we have invested ourselves in the
betterment in a small part of this city, without much fanfare. We have
converted buildings into spaces for the production and presentation of
art. The slow tide of shifts we bear with us contains safer streets,
opportunities for public engagement, non-commercial meeting spaces,
cultural awareness, community building endeavors, a tradition of
volunteerism, avenues for the exchange of ideas, civic engagement, and
a sense of belonging. We know that our collective labour, which is
enabled by the combined generosity of many individuals, is often
followed by cycles of gentrification, but we remain steadfast in the
belief that we need not be the harbinger of unbridled growth that
displaces and replaces. That is only one of many possible options in
the future of our City.

Ultimately, it is the structure of the options presented by Rize
through the City report that we take issue with. We write now to add
our voice to many others who call for a more consultative process, one
that recognizes and respects the history and future of the
neighbourhoods that are facing change. It is the present community
members who will absorb more traffic, who will struggle to maintain
homes amidst an inevitable rise in commercial and residential rents,
and who will every day be confronted with towers that lack any
significant cohesion with their surroundings, unless something changes
in the way the City approaches development.

Being centrally located shouldn’t be a privilege afforded only by the
wealthy, offered only as a luxury to the rest of us. This is
particularly explicit in the recent decisions by City staff to remove
the 9,200 square feet of proposed artist production space in exchange
for a cash contribution towards another site, likely further east. We
implore you to reconsider your approach. How much longer will the City
continue to give up diversity for density?

Sincerely,

Brian McBay, Executive Director, 221A Artist Run Centre
Allison Collins, President, Board of Directors, 221A Artist Run Centre

Letter to Vancouver City Council on the Rize development from Lorna Brown, artist and curator


Lorna Brown is a well-known Vancouver artist, curator, and educator. She is pictured here with the billboard for Digital Natives, a project she and Clint Burnham curated for the Vancouver 125 series.

 

Dear Mayor and Council,

I am an artist, curator and writer. I currently live and work in Mount Pleasant, and have lived in the East Side of the city for close to three decades. I am writing to state my opposition to the rezoning application for the proposed Rize development at Broadway and Kingsway.

Our city is home to the highest concentration of artists of any city in Canada, and the character and vitality of our neighbourhood reflects this reality. As our elected representatives, you have a responsibility to defend, and further, to improve the capacity of artists and cultural workers to continue to live in and contribute to the communities we helped to build. I believe that the proposed Rize development is a significant threat to this objective. To approve this rezoning application would contradict many of the stated policies of City Council regarding its commitment to the arts, its priority to address the studio space crisis, as well as its intentions regarding the lack of affordable housing.

This issue has a personal dimension for me: along with many other artists, my studio was located at 246 East Broadway and was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day, 2009. I would like to share with you the effects of displacement on an enterprise such as mine, since it will illustrate the impact of relocation on the art community in general, should work space and housing become increasingly unaffordable and artists can no longer live or work here. That Christmas morning marked the beginning of an ongoing struggle to rebuild the independent artistic practice that is my livelihood. Securing a new space to work, negotiation with the insurance company, legal consultation, replacing business records and documents, equipment and the like were tasks that needed to be done while at the same time meeting current and ongoing commitments in order to keep my practice afloat. My accountant commented that few businesses survive this kind of forced relocation. No amount of insurance could compensate for the cost of rebuilding, lost income and lost opportunities. In this way, my experience parallels what I see in the near future for the many artists, arts organizations and creative small businesses that make Mount Pleasant such a vibrant neighbourhood. By contributing to the increased costs of work spaces, exhibition spaces, and housing in our area, the Rize development will lead to a ‘planned’ and systematic displacement of our community. At the same time, it will create a deficit to be borne entirely by the sector that has developed the principal assets of this community, the very qualities that make it valuable.

While I am not opposed to responsible development, nor to positive change in my community, the proposed Rize development is neither. It offers no housing that anyone in my community can afford. It offers no tangible benefit to the street life, local business community or cultural health of Mount Pleasant. It is a harbinger, in fact, of the destruction of what is valuable and treasured by residents.

It will threaten the local presence of a vital and internationally recognized art community. In an interdependent relationship, the art community supports and generates significant economic activity and a host of social benefits through a combination of non-profit, for-profit and social profit ventures. The art community contributes to a very high quality of life even for those on very modest incomes – ours and our neighbours. This delicate and successful balance needs viable, stable and healthy organizations like artist-run centres and local businesses. We rely upon volunteer labour as well as paid work, creative collaboration based on shared values, and cooperative attitudes. These currencies are scarce when residents – our audiences, our young colleagues, our neighbours – struggle to earn enough money for a place to live or to work. Generosity and cooperation are not part of the business plans of the franchise operations that are replacing small, independent businesses up and down Main Street. Irresponsible development, with its focus on short-term gain, threatens the precarious balance that exists in this neighbourhood, and if it gains the support of city hall, the decades of very tangible investment by artists and our supporters will be squandered, with no benefit to anyone in our community. To approve this rezoning application is to ask our community to not only forfeit what we have already contributed, but to also shoulder the losses arising from our displacement.

At the moment, on the corner of Broadway and Kingsway, a very orange marketing campaign occupies the location destroyed by the fire. It consists of several temporary walls, some temporary fencing, a temporary bench. Papering the walls are enlarged facsimiles of artworks. There is an evergreen tree with sparkly tinsel, no doubt potted for ease of removal. It mimics an art installation of the friendly, community-minded variety in a cynical attempt to appear like a good neighbour. It seriously underestimates its audience, who recognize that this unused, fake park, this branding exercise, is planted on a site where family businesses, creative work and long-term practices were once active. There is no pleasure to be found in this unintended irony.

If the development is well represented by its marketing, we can expect something clumsy, poorly executed, and out of touch with the community in which it is placed. It will consider art to be wallpaper, only valuable as propaganda, as a temporary diversion. Artists themselves will be considered expendable, a resource successfully tapped to extinction. The development will leverage the investment made by our community while at the same time ensuring that we cannot profit from it. The development, as a precedent and a formula, will be replicated in other artist-friendly neighbourhoods.

If Council is serious about its claims that ‘everyone who wants to live in Vancouver should be able to live here’, if it truly values what artists, volunteers, audiences and cultural workers have contributed to our success as a city, then it will choose to prevent the forced relocation of our community. If pushed out of the city into the suburbs – or more likely into other cities – this displacement will be permanent.

Sincerely,

Lorna Brown

Lorna Brown is a Vancouver artist, curator, and educator. Over several decades she has made a significant contribution to Vancouver’s visual arts scene, both at home and internationally. Her recent independent curatorial projects include the online archive Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the SixtiesGroup Search: art in the libraryat the Vancouver Public Library, and the public art project Digital Natives, a Vancouver 125 commission. Over the years, she has volunteered on boards and committees for The Western Front, The Or Gallery, Artspeak,  grunt gallery, Access Gallery, and The Vancouver Art Gallery.  She was Director/Curator of Artspeak Gallery from 1999-2004. Since 1984, her work has been shown in exhibitions at Dazibao, Montreal; Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver; Contemporary Art Gallery and Centre A, Vancouver; Gallery 44, Toronto; Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa; Tapei Fine Arts Museum among others.

Please also see a letter by Vancouver art curator/director Glenn Alteen. For more details on Rize and Mount Pleasant visit the Residents Association of Mount Pleasant website. 

Letter to Vancouver City Council on the Rize condo development by Glenn Alteen, Curator

The following letter was written  to Vancouver’s Mayor and Council by Glenn Alteen, Program Director at Vancouver’s Grunt Gallery. It addresses the issue of a large condo development project known as RIZE slated for construction in East Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant area, which until recently has been an affordable, arts-friendly neighbourhood.

We print Glenn’s letter here because we want to highlight the fact that the high cost of living/studio/performance space in Vancouver is just as dire for B.C. arts as the government’s draconian cuts to arts investment. Studies show Vancouver is now the second most unaffordable city in the world after Hong Kong. The arts cannot survive the deadly combination of 1. skyrocketing land prices and speculative development in the city and 2. the worst cuts to government arts investment of any province in Canada, by far. It’s well known that cities without arts—cities without a viable creative sector—always ultimately fail. BC arts cannot survive the collapse of arts in Vancouver, the province’s main city. The brain drain that has been underway here for several years is now accelerating and as we all know, brain drain is extremely hard to reverse. Vancouver needs better planning and stewardship than this, both for its arts sector and for all its residents. Rize is not just another development; it’s one of the most obvious examples of bad planning in recent Vancouver memory, not to mention that it violates the new 2010 Mount Pleasant Community  Plan in numerous ways. Is City Council going to listen to citizens and neighbourhoods or not? Is it going to continue to make a mockery of its own stated commitment to public consultation? Mt Pleasant has spoken; the vast majority of its residents strongly oppose the proposal. We are not against development. We’re against development run amok. Glenn’s letter:

Dear Mayor and Council,

I am the Program Director of grunt gallery and a resident in the Quebec Manor Housing Co-op. I have lived in this community for the past 28 years and have seen many changes over this period. Mount Pleasant is growing and changing at a rapid rate and while most of this development has been good for the community I think the RIZE building represents a very real threat to what is here now.

Development for the most part has been sustainable and inevitably gentrification is a part of this picture. But I feel RIZE in its central place in Mount Pleasant will push this gentrification into overdrive.

My biggest worry about this increased gentrification is what it will do to the art community in Vancouver. In the VanCity commissioned report The Power of the Arts in Vancouver: Creating a Great City, Pier Luigi Sacco correctly identifies the east side as the home of the art community in the city. He also recognizes the strong state of development of the arts in the east side citing the international recognition of many of our artists and our strong position internationally especially in the field of visual arts.

The basis of much of this strength has been on the strength of the visual arts community here in the city. Despite the worst provincial funding in Canada Vancouver has somehow emerged as THE place where international artists emerge in Canada. This is not because of our strong visual arts institutions because frankly one of the things that pulls us together as an arts community is the fact that from The Vancouver Art Gallery to the smallest artist centre we are all under resourced. Struggling with not enough space or staff all of us must reconcile the highest space costs in the world with the lowest funding levels in the country.

So if it is not our institutions what is the nature of Vancouver’s success? Part of the reason for this has been the availability of space for artists’ studios and housing that has been the boon that made this development possible. Many other jurisdictions spend millions of dollars trying to develop the position that Vancouver is now in and unfortunately recent developments in the East End are changing all this quickly and perhaps irrevocably.

Most of this studio space exists in the neighborhoods around False Creek Flats: Mount Pleasant, Strathcona, Clark Drive, Chinatown and the DTES. These areas have historically been the places where artists live and work in the city. Development threatens all these areas currently. We at grunt see the results of this gentrification every day. Renovictions are common all along Main Street. The closing recently of 901 Main Street laid bare the problems with the arts and redevelopment and the very real threat they make to the arts community.

We all know the history of artists and gentrification because it’s an old story now. How the arts are used to open up neighborhoods for redevelopment is now a cliché. grunt gallery was able, in an earlier spurt of redevelopment in Mount Pleasant, to enter a marketing deal with a developer of the early Live Work sites, PEMCOR, to purchase a condo in the Mainspace Development on Main Street. We joke it was one of the only times the arts community ever moved forward during redevelopment but in truth I have been invited to write about it, speak about it and lunch over it many times. We remain a unique entity in this regard and not only in Vancouver but across Canada.

The same developer PEMCOR went on to produce the EDGE development at the foot of Main Street on Alexander which included 30 live work studios donated to the city that has become the CORE Coop and produced some of the only rent controlled live work space in the city. Perhaps the city should look back at this development as a model to move forward because it was one of the only successful ones.

But to RIZE. This development has far too many negative impacts on this community (and not just to the arts community) and far too few positive ones. Situated in the heart of Mount Pleasant and literally towering over it so much that even city staff toned it down in the visuals it presented to us and to you. The negative impacts include a threat to the small independent businesses along Main Street due to rental increases, the loss of really affordable housing, increased traffic problems and congestion, destruction of the café culture that exists in that intersection, and the promise of an even bigger development on the Kingsgate Mall site.

With the selling off of the studio space included in the project the city has effectively prevented any relief towards the studio shortage. Not that we were expecting much. The District Building by Amarcon also promised affordable studio space after closing 901 Main Street but even as this building opens nobody I know has heard anything about this affordable space.

The problem here is that artists are responding to these threats by moving east. But not east to Rupert Street but to Toronto or Montreal or Winnipeg where there is a better chance of finding sustainable housing and realistic funding. Over the past several months two board members of grunt left for Montreal and Winnipeg, our Technical Support now works out of Toronto and our associate curator moved to the interior. Further up Main Street art community residents housed for over twenty years are getting renoviction notices.

grunt owns its own space so is not threatened by these increased property values but we are literally watching our support base disappear under our feet. The housing that RIZE is offering is not affordable to any of the residents of this community so there are few alternatives.

It’s easy to talk about helping the arts community and the power of creative cities but after working in this field for the past 30 years mostly all I’ve have seen is talk. But by developments like Rize we will see the destruction of the arts communities in Mount Pleasant and in neighboring communities in a very real way and all the homilies in the world won’t prevent that. If this Council is serious about its support for the arts it needs to step up here.

We can see the new community being formed but will there be any room in it for artists, small businesses, cafes etc.? Who can service these communities and where will they live? RIZE will cause many more problems than it solves in this community and Council needs to recognize this very real threat.

Thank you for your attention,

Glenn Alteen
Program Director
Grunt gallery

If you would like to make your views on Rize known, please attend the hearing at City Hall on Monday Feb 27 at 7:30 pm. If you like you can also sign up to speak. Even one sentence is fine – you simply have to register your opposition. Click here to register.

For more details visit the Residents Association of Mount Pleasant website. 

Also see an article in the Vancouver Courier about Rize. It also mentions the after-the-fact removal of the promised art studio space CAC (community amenity contribution) from the Rize proposal.

Sean Cullen: “Put down those pens, authors! Put down those brushes, artists! Why not go into the service industry? Or banking?”

“Hi there, I’m Sean Cullen. You know, I’ve written books. Yeah, but who needs ‘em? I mean who needs Canadian books. Certainly we need books, that’s a necessary thing. We need art, we need books, but we don’t need our own books, do we? I mean I don’t need to look further than Harry Potter. I don’t need to know what’s happening in this country, I don’t need to have any kind of connection with the stories, or any kind of voice in the literary world! I don’t need people writing stories about me, for me!”

Dan Mangan: VOTE!

Find out who your arts-friendly candidates are in the 2011 civic elections in B.C… and then vote for them!

More proof – as if we needed more – that arts are a huge economic driver

By any standard, the province of BC gets a failing grade in arts-based economic development. You may find the four information sources here interesting. (Click on each image to see larger version, or click links for reports.) We need to develop graphics like these for Vancouver as well as for the whole province of BC. We do of course already have a great deal of information for BC, including the government’s own data which clearly demonstrates that for every dollar invested in arts in BC, at least $6 is returned to BC government coffers within one year. This is known as the “multiplier effect” but the government tends to discount it for reasons that remain unexplained. We demand an explanation.

Secondly, when you look at tourism alone, things get even more interesting. Recent Canadian data, for instance, shows that in terms of tourism, arts tourism brings NINE TIMES the cash into Canada as sports tourism does. This figure comes from “Canadian Heritage – The Economic of Cultural and Sport Tourism in Canada 2007” which in turn derives much of its data from Statscan. These figures are for international tourism, including tourism from the USA. Yet governments invest heavily in sports teams, arenas and stadiums— far more heavily than they do in arts. The question must be asked: why? For political points?

As an aside, it’s interesting to see how low down on the totem pole Toronto’s casino is in its tourism revenues – at the bottom. It’s the same point we made when we defeated the megacasino proposed for downtown Vancouver (attached to our sports stadium, no less). [It seems more and more evident that charities including arts received massive cuts to gaming grants at the same time the BC Place Stadium roof budget went from 100+ million to 400+ million - a roof renovation demanded by a US casino company that had a faulty business plan involving non-existent tourism and that had not yet secured city permission to build.]

For both the reasons given above—the multiplier effect and tourism data—arts subsidy is clearly a lucrative public investment. So what’s the government’s excuse for these economy-harming cuts? Arts investment is not charity. It’s an industrial subsidy, just like the subsidies every other industry in BC receives, whether by strategic infrastructural assistance or other forms of support. Why has the arts, a key and growing sector in the global economy, been singled out for demolition here? The only rational answer can be that it’s ideological: the unique role of arts in public life, critical thinking, and the questioning public sphere must be the reason. Because the removal of subsidies (and jobs) has certainly not being imposed for economic reasons. If the government were truly being run by an “economy-friendly” party, this wouldn’t be happening. It is in fact being run by a party in which ideology trumps economic competence. Government cuts have now precipitated an almost unprecedented and accelerating talent brain drain from BC that will be dogging us for decades to come. And that’s just the brain drain component—add to it the many damaging economic disadvantages this failure to invest in the arts brings, and you get a pretty accurate picture of a mess.

Cities and towns are only as good as their arts sector. No planning experts anywhere dispute this. The arts draw businesses and educated people from afar, they act as a matrix for a host of other industries, contractors and services, and they’re generally key to healthy GDP. Not to mention that the creative sector is one of the greenest industries around. Again, arts are a massive global growth sector, key to the most lucrative forms of tourism, and this government doesn’t just lack a plan to avail BC of these opportunities; it actually aims to destroy the sector. Write a quick two sentence email to your MLA. Email addresses are here. If you’re on Twitter, let @ChristyClarkBC know how you feel. Remember that Rich Coleman when Gaming Minister made arts ineligible for gaming revenues. Gambling was only expanded in BC to pay for arts and other charities and non-profits, and the cuts are actually illegal. Tell Christy Clark to deal with this problem immediately.

Thanks to one of our twitter friends for directing us to these infographics.

To see the extent of Toronto and Ontario’s innovative thinking about its creative sector, see this PDF: Creative Capital Gains: An Action Plan for Toronto.

Meanwhile, in other cities in BC, the madness continues

A final note: The problem there is that unless we have state investment in culture, people don’t have access to culture. Until they have access to culture and its benefits for themselves and their children, they don’t understand its necessity. Unless they demand culture, politicians don’t then pander to that desire. It’s a cart before horse problem that besets BC far more than other provinces. Ontarians and Quebeckers are proud of their homegrown culture, while BCers haven’t learned to demand and protect it. Culture then languishes and its cultural sector increasingly uncompetitive with other regions, and we lose out both socially and economically. Government must take the lead.

BC Gaming Review hearing process concluded; now we wait.

The BC Gaming Grants Review is now drafting its recommendations to government. These will be presented to government in mid-October. Thanks to all arts organizations and charity presenters who contributed to the review either in person or by letter. The chair of the Review, governance expert Skip Triplett, has conducted himself in a sincerely open, accessible and intelligent way throughout.

Our hope is that the recommendations are strong, that they include immediate stop-gap funding, immediate restoration of 2008 levels followed by immediate increase, and perhaps also a renegotation of the 1999 Memorandum of Agreement, a legal document ensuring gaming funding that the BC government has, so far, never obeyed. A properly legislated fraction of gaming revenues going to charities and non-profits will not only guarantee jobs and the health of the sector but will also provide a natural brake on gaming expansion, since fewer revenues go straight into general revenue (for pet projects). We also hope to see a de-linking of charities from gaming expansion; never again should arts groups and their charity friends have to go to municipal council and shill for gambling companies seeking to build and expand. That relationship must be severed permanently. Lastly there must be arms-length bodies similar to BCAC for distributing funds – gaming grants must never again be distributed at the discretion – or, let’s face it, whim – of Gaming or other ministers.

Thanks to Skip Triplett for his excellent work so far, from all of us in Stop BC Arts Cuts and beyond. It was a pleasure dealing with him.