Open Letter to Ministers Hansen, Krueger, Coleman & Premier Gordon Campbell

Dear Minister Hansen, Minister Krueger, Minister Coleman and Premier Campbell,

On the BC Budget 2009 website, the introduction states:

“September Budget Update 2009 protects vital services and positions British Columbia for renewed economic growth. Government is taking steps to protect the critical public services British Columbians rely on, to promote new investment and economic growth and move forward with long-term initiatives that will improve the quality of life throughout B.C.” (www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2009_Sept_Update/default.htm)

And yet, the 2009 budget tabled last week includes a sudden decline in core funding for the arts, of more than 80 percent over two years (some analyses put the final reduction at 92 percent by 2012).  Why decide to drastically cut a sector that has consistently demonstrated its ability to do precisely the things listed above? Many studies (including one conducted by your own government) have shown that arts activity stimulates economic growth, generates jobs, provides a healthy return on investment, and fosters vibrant, healthy, diverse communities. And yet, you have refused to capitalize on this potential; in fact, you seem to be actively trying to destroy it. At best, I find this a dangerously irresponsible direction for the government to take, and I think that British Columbians deserve a real explanation of the rationale behind it.

I find it difficult to accept the justification that, for instance, Minister Coleman offered for the withdrawal of BC Gaming Direct Access funds: that the government is making tough but necessary decisions, prioritizing the really important things in these precarious times. The implication is that music, theatre, literature, dance, film and visual art are luxuries that our society cannot afford and will not miss.

For myself, I cannot imagine a world *without* these things – but I am a writer, an arts administrator, a publicist, a teacher, a stage manager, a musician; I have worked in the cultural sector since I was sixteen years old, and participated in it as a performer and audience member for at least ten years before that. Clearly, the arts are central to my life, both professional and personal. I understand that this is not the case for many people; that when decisions need to be made, it is sometimes easy to think of the arts as somehow outside of daily life, less urgently relevant than other concerns. But I ask you to consider the possibility that, in fact, the opposite is true. For instance, there is a direct relationship between the art forms listed above and the many industries and services British Columbians access every day when they turn on the radio, read a newspaper, play a video game, go to a movie, look at an advertising billboard, sign up their kids for extra-curricular programs, visit the library, or surf the internet. In the long term, cuts to arts funding will have a negative impact on all of these everyday things, and more. The ripple effect will be vast and profound.

It’s not just hundreds of arts organizations across the province that are threatened; it’s not just my livelihood and that of 80,000 other workers in BC’s creative sector that may be in jeopardy. Apart from stimulating economic growth and generating jobs, arts activity fosters creativity, innovation and volunteerism. Arts workers acquire transferable skills that benefit any number of other seemingly unrelated sectors. Through the arts, British Columbians talk to each other, communicate new ideas, remind ourselves of the past and imagine the future.  We learn to transcend linguistic, cultural and socio-economic barriers, to understand each other better, to forge connections and work together, to think outside the box. In a province as large and diverse as British Columbia, with the immense challenges (economic, social, environmental) that we face in the world today, how can the government *not* value a sector that offers all these things?

I am not asking for special treatment for the arts. When funds are distributed and budget decisions are made, I simply want the creative sector to be given consideration that accurately reflects its potential as a sound investment with substantial, far-reaching economic and social benefits.  I want my provincial government to recognize that culture matters.

Thank you for your attention to these issues.

Regards,

Melanie Thompson

Vancouver, BC

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