Why It’s Not About The Money

Category: community 892

One New Brunswick artist shares her concern over the artsNB debacle.

sophia bartholomew

IMG_1685In the two weeks since the provincial budget was announced, the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture has reassured the public that the elimination of the New Brunswick Arts Board’s administrative budget over the next two years will not compromise the arm’s-length peer assessment model currently in use at the arts board, and will not reduce the amount of funding available to artists and organizations in the province. In advance of their confidential meeting with the Department and artsnb on February 11, ArtsLink and AAAPNB, New Brunswick’s Anglophone and Francophone arts advocacy groups, respectively, announced that they had been assured that the autonomy and independence of provincial arts funding would not be compromised.

Because I literally have no access to detailed information about the “new management model” the Department plans to implement, I have no reason to believe Minister Bill Fraser’s assurances. I cannot understand why information about the government’s plan is being withheld from the public, particularly when the Department is trying to articulate a commitment to transparency and accountability into the future.

As an artist and arts organizer whose capacity to develop my art practice, and to present and facilitate art in my community hangs in the balance, I remain deeply concerned about the changes to arts and culture funding announced by Premier Brian Gallant’s government. Here’s why:

The problem isn’t a cut to arts funding, the problem is the loss of an arms-reach governance model.

This model establishes necessary distance from political interference. The arm’s-length model also upholds a commitment to financial and procedural transparency, to representing regional and cultural diversity, and to supporting disciplinary excellence in the arts. They may have good intentions, but because of the inherently bureaucratic and risk-adverse character of government administration, I’m not convinced that the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture can uphold these important commitments.

By definition, arts funding’s arm’s-length relationship with government will no longer exist once artsnb’s grants to artists are absorbed into government and administered by the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture. By definition, the arm’s-length process cannot exist within government.

As a proud citizen of New Brunswick, I am concerned that this will seriously compromise artistic excellence and freedom of speech in our province. Once we lose this structure, I worry it will take a lot of time and resources to get it back.

Cross stitch by Robin Goodine.
Cross stitch by Robin Goodine.

The proposed changes will be more expensive for taxpayers, not less.

If the government really does plan to keep all of the same grant programs, and to uphold the same standards of peer assessment, I cannot understand how it is possible to save money. First of all, government employees do not have the artistic expertise that makes the New Brunswick Arts Board’s current employees effective and efficient. Furthermore, according to a February 11 press release from artsnb, the average salary of arts board staff is $45,000, while departmental staff earn an average salary of $75,000. Administrative restructuring is also time consuming and expensive.

If these changes go forward, we will be dismantling a mature, arm’s-length funding structure that has taken 25 years worth of community investment and government money to build. We will be the only province in Canada without an arm’s-length arts board, and we stand to lose large amounts of funding secured through artsnb’s partnerships with the public and private sector.

Why is the government trying to fix something that isn’t broken?

There is room to improve the Province’s arts funding model, but allowing Premier Gallant’s government to dismantle New Brunswick’s autonomous arts board and place $900 000 worth of artist grants under the jurisdiction of partisan governments will take us many steps in the wrong direction.

I agree with Fredericton South MLA David Coon. It’s time for straight talk on the budget. How can the government justify taking over management of the arts board, while simultaneously moving so many of its existing management responsibilities out of government and into the corporate sector?

Together with my friends and colleagues, I am asking that Premier Brian Gallant meet with the New Brunswick Arts Board’s board of directors to discuss alternatives. In solidarity with artsnb, we are appealing directly to Premier Brian Gallant because Minister Bill Fraser and his Department have an obvious conflict of interest in this discussion. They stand to gain control of all the arts board’s grant programs, and are not in a position to clearly evaluate what will best serve the community-at-large.

Join us. Write a letter to Premier Brian Gallant. Letter templates are available in English and French upon request, from Nisk Imbeault at nisk.imbeault@umoncton.ca if you need them. You can also sign this petition, online, requesting that Premier Brian Gallant meet with artsnb’s board of directors.

Don’t give up. New Brunswick artists fought hard for the creation of the arts board twenty-five years ago, and have continued to fight against threats to its independence since then. We can’t give up now.


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