Members of the local arts and culture community met at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s Tuesday evening to discuss cuts to the sector in this year’s provincial budget, and to plan how to lobby the government for the cuts to be reversed.
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Members of the local arts community were united when it came to the picture they painted of the provincial government at a meeting last night.
At a public forum regarding arts workers in this province, presented jointly by Eastern Edge Gallery and Visual Artists Newfoundland and Labrador, members of the arts and culture sectors expressed their frustration over the recent cuts announced in last month’s provincial budget.
The meeting, held at Eastern Edge, was attended by artists, craftspeople, archivists, employees of The Rooms and arts supporters. All agreed the current government doesn’t seem to grasp the value of arts and culture in the province.
“It’s like having a beautiful-looking car with nothing inside,” said one man. “We’ve taken the guts out of her, b’ys.”
Cuts announced on March 26 included a $1-million decrease for The Rooms, which led to the elimination of 13 staff members.
A visual arts program at the Stephenville campus of College of the North Atlantic, the only place in the province to study ceramics and metal working full-time, was also cut.
Some arts workers who escaped the layoffs chose not to attend the forum out of fear of speaking out, the crowd was told.
“Over the last couple of weeks there’s been a genuine sense of depression,” Mary MacDonald of Eastern Edge told the crowd. “(Cuts like these) shake our confidence in our own self-image and make us wonder what’s next, and not in a good way.”
Mireille Eagan had been curator of Canadian art at The Rooms, and one of four curators let go after the budget was brought down.
She told the crowd she’s worried about what the future holds for the facility.
“I’m concerned for the ability of The Rooms arts gallery and other organizations in The Rooms to move forward,” she said, describing current resources at the facility as just the “bare bones.”
“We are not able to do mundane functions. Basic paperwork is not possible,” she said.
Dave Hopley of Living Planet addressed the group as a member of the local business community, while a statement from St. John’s city Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary, who was unable to attend, was read.
O'Leary, an artist and a mayoral candidate in the upcoming municipal election, said she was distressed “to see the negative impact of the shortsightedness of this provincial budget not only in the arts but in many important service areas including environment, our justice system and in our municipal operating costs.”
Visual artists Phillippa Jones and Marlene Creates also gave short presentations before the event was opened up to the floor, each stressing their shock and disappointment and speaking of the ways the cuts will affect the arts and culture sectors.
Creates said she was informed days ago by government staff of a
10 per cent cut to the Provincial Cultural Economic Development Program (CEDP), which assisted individual artists.
A market access and export program was eliminated entirely,
Individual artists can no longer apply for funding through CEDP, and it’s unlikely the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council will be able to provide the same kind of support, given its budget was not increased and the judging criteria for the grants rests in terms of artistic merit rather than economic potential.
“There are budget cuts, but there’s been no open consultation with the arts community, none that I know of, and no input from artists about decisions being made which affect us,” Creates said.
Many of those who spoke expressed the belief the provincial government is interested in quantitative culture rather than the qualitative nature of what the arts community does.
A combined effort to educate and lobby the government to reinstate programs is the only way for change to happen, speakers said time and again.
“We’ve had the same discussions (with government) over and over and over and over and over again,” said artist Tara Bryan. “The only way we are going to convince government to do anything — we can’t do it as individuals. The only way we, as artists, have a hope in hell of convincing government of anything is do to it as a community.”
Tourism, Culture and Recreation Minister Terry French had been invited to take part in the meeting, but wasn’t present. The discussion was recorded with the intention of presenting it to him.