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News / April 25, 2019

Shifts Begin for Vancouver City Arts Funding

A new, more equity-focused assessment process has seen funding drops for some arts organizations, and important boosts for others. And there’s more to come.
A scene from Corey Payette's musical play <em>Children of God</em>, about members of an Oji-Cree family sent to residential school. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre was one of the key partners in bringing the production to fruition in 2017, and a new boost in funding from the City of Vancouver will help the organization support its ongoing work. Photo: Facebook / The Cultch. A scene from Corey Payette's musical play Children of God, about members of an Oji-Cree family sent to residential school. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre was one of the key partners in bringing the production to fruition in 2017, and a new boost in funding from the City of Vancouver will help the organization support its ongoing work. Photo: Facebook / The Cultch.

Civic arts funding is shifting in Vancouver. The most recent round of funding from the City, announced on April 8, amounts to $5.85 million in grants to 195 organizations.

The assessment committee for this year’s grants, states a City of Vancouver report, “looked for pathways to change existing systems that maintained privilege and power for some communities in the cultural ecology and the city at large.”

Fourteen of the organizations funded this year are new to civic granting programs—a result in part of outreach sessions in Fall 2018 to the Roundhouse Community Centre, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Aboriginal Friendship Centre.

“These 2019 grant recommendations do not maintain the status quo of all previous base-levels,” says the City of Vancouver report. “Notably, Major Institutions and operation organizations that receive larger-scale civic support were evaluated for their accountability to the arts and cultural community around leadership, impact, and equitable artistic and public access to programming, cultural spaces, and other assets.”

As a result, some organizations received boosts to annual funding, while others saw some losses. And more funding changes are coming soon through the development of Vancouver’s Creative City Strategy, says a city spokesperson. That strategy will be officially released in Fall 2019, but its impacts might be felt before then.

The Vancouver East Cultural Centre, also known as the Cultch, was one organization receiving a funding boost this month under the new process. Its previous operating grant from the City of Vancouver was $115,000 annually; now it is $150,000. And the new money is much needed, says its leader.

“There hasn’t been any sort of real funding boost to the overall budget since the Olympics,” says Heather Redfern, executive director at the Cultch. “There as been maybe a percentage or two here and there over the years, but that has meant that our operations grants have for the most part been frozen…. our previous grant was $115,000, which went a lot further in 2011 than it does now.”

Redfern says she is excited that the new funding recognizes the work the Cultch has been doing to “move performance in Vancouver into a place that really embraces all of the cultures that live here.” By example, Redfern points to a relationship with Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, which has led to world-touring performances.

Redfern also indicates the Cultch has put a focus on Indigenous performance and Indigenous audience needs. “We worked very closely with a company called UrbanInk with a project called Children of God, which was a musical written and directed by Corey Payette about residential schools,” says Redfern. For presentations of the play in recent months, the Cultch also ensured counsellors were in the lobby at performance times, did talkbacks after every performance, and worked with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs to make sure Indigenous communities in the province could see the play if they so desired.

Gallery Gachet is also one of the organizations that received additional monies this year—in this case the City of Vancouver offered Gallery Gachet a one-time Capacity Grant of $7,500. It will be used to help the gallery build its support for people marginalized by their mental health.

“Gallery Gachet is situated, and provides programs, within a network of both social services and cultural organizations serving downtown eastside and mental health communities,” writes Cecily Nicholson, finance and administration at Gallery Gachet, in an email. “The Province of BC severed funds to non-clinical mental health supports in 2016. We lost half of our funding with six months’ notice. After re-securing funds, moving the organization while under financial duress, and in the midst of local mental health and opioid crises, a capacity grant will contribute to strategic planning, strengthening communications, and accessing charitable tax status.”

Among the organizations receiving a drop in funds, or less than requested from the City of Vancouver this year, are the Vancouver Art Gallery—though the VAG’s loss was negligible, cutting $15,000 on a $2.1-million annual grant. The Vancouver Maritime Museum Society had requested $450,000 this year from the City, but was given $400,000—same as it received in 2018.

The City of Vancouver, in a separate funding process, did offer $800,000 over several years for the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite, which is a public art venue. That funding amounts to $160,000 annually. And that particular program, as the Straight reports, is funded by the Georgia Street (Shangri-La) Public Art Reserve, which was created from millions in developer monies when the Shangri-La Hotel was opened.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is news and special sections editor at Canadian Art. She has also written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. She welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.