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Are the Vancouver 2010 Olympics Responsible for B.C.'s missing arts funds?

jasmine rezaee

On display at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Kristi Malakoff, Skull

The Ancient Olympic Games were held in Greece every four years and celebrated culture as much as sports. The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, placed an emphasis on culture as well, making it the “second pillar” of the Olympics, equal to sports. In the early 20th Century, the second pillar was honoured by hosting arts competitions that involved medals and featured art inspired by sport. In 1954 the art competitions were abandoned, leaving the second pillar’s future uncertain.

The concept of a “Cultural Olympiad” was introduced in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics to revive the lost arts pillar. Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics also features a Cultural Olympiad or 400 events scheduled over 2 years that feature both local and international artists and musicians, festivals and films. According to the Cultural Olympiad Program Director, Robert Kerr, “The Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad is bringing the “Second Pillar” alive through three annual festivals of arts and popular culture, creating a diverse and dynamic showcase of some of the finest local, national and international artists of our time.”

Sounds good, right? Nope.

Though a Cultural Olympiad budget of about $20 million has been set aside, Vancouver’s art and culture landscape has only benefited minimally from Olympics funding. More importantly, the Olympics might even be responsible for the recent dramatic $77 million arts and culture government cutback.

Earlier this month the Direct Action Committee of the Alliance for Arts and Culture issued a press release stating that “the provincial government is planning to cut over 80% of what has consisted of only 1/20th of 1% of the provincial budget.  No other provinces in Canada have reduced support for a sector that, according to government statistics, produces significant returns on investment.” It’s no surprise that the arts and culture community has always been seriously under funded and often undervalued by policymakers. But the recent developments are startling.

In 1999, the B.C. provincial government assumed responsibility for the B.C. Lottery Corporation. At that time, the B.C. government promised to provide the not-for-profit sector, including artists, with one-third of net gaming revenue. This year the government has not lived up to its promise and, according to Brenda Leadlay, the artistic director of Presentation House Theatre, non-profit organizations in B.C. have been literally “chopped off at the knees.”

In 2008 gaming grants provided 6,800 not-profit groups in B.C. with $156 million and the B.C. Lottery Corporation reported a record $1.091 billion profit as of March 31. So the question becomes, with all this available revenue, what has happened with the gaming money? Why have some of the artists, festivals, community services that are most vulnerable and dependent on government subsidies been given the boot?

What makes the arts and culture community particularly angry is the abrupt cancellation of three-year grants that had been promised by the government. For artistic director of Touchstone Theatre, Katrina Dunn, these reversals are unacceptable, since the money that was guaranteed to her theatre company has already been spent.

Some hypothesize that the gaming money is being rerouted to cover Olympics related expenses in the city of Vancouver, although this story is uncorroborated for now.

According to Leadlay, many organizations will have to close their doors or risk running a deficit that can only be sustained for so long. As she puts it, this news is “really devastating.” While Vancouver is on display for both tourists and investors in 2010, and considering the copious amount of money that has gone into cultivating a sophisticated image of Vancouver—a vibrant, fascinating city with good food and great art (and no poverty or homelessness)—the arts community is gasping for breath.

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