Harper's cuts lower the curtain on arts funding

Local arts organizations are already affected by Stephen Harper’s funding cuts.

Arts professionals have been up in arms across the country over the last few months about funding emergencies due to government budget cuts and the economy stalling donations. But how is the economic crisis hitting here in Nova Scotia, where we’re already famous for our lack of arts funding? As one of a couple of provinces without an independent arts funding body (lumped in under Nova Scotia Tourism, Culture and Heritage) and with a city council that seems more excited about widening roads, local organizations are already accustomed to scrimping and saving---wherever Stephen Harper’s heavily subsidized galas are taking place, it’s not Halifax. “ would have a bad effect on us because the other two levels of government funding are so pathetic,” Brian MacNevin, director of the Khyber ICA, says.Theatre company OneLight Theatre is directly feeling the effects of the Conservative government’s arts program cuts. They had planned to take their production, Return Ticket: Abadan-Halifax-Abadan, to Iran for the Fadjr International Theatre Festival in January 2009, relying on the government’s PromArt program, which helped fund international tours of Canadian artists. That program was scrapped this summer, and the small company has been scrambling to find other support for the trip. The play explores the effects of living in war zones on residents who stay and who leave, looking at playwright and OneLight artistic director Shahin Sayadi’s hometown of Abadan, Iran, during the Iran-Iraq war.They’ve received some money from the Nova Scotia government and are waiting to hear back from Canada Council. To make up the rest, they have performances of their play, The Veil, planned in Halifax from January 15 to 17, and hope that ticket sales will cover expenses. “We’re very short. We’re relying on community support to make this happen,” says Sayadi, “but it may not.”Artist-run centre Eyelevel Gallery has also taken a hit. With the gallery’s 35th anniversary coming up next year, director Eryn Foster had planned to digitize the gallery archives, a project in conjunction with Dalhousie University’s archives, through a Canadian Heritage program called the Canadian Memory Fund, which provided support to cultural organizations for making historical data available online. That fund was another cancelled program. The gallery still plans to create a digital archive, but “it won’t be as comprehensive,” Foster says. They’re looking into support from the provincial government instead. The Canadian Heritage website helpfully states, “This program has clearly achieved its original objective to encourage federal agencies to digitize their collections...Developing Web sites and online documents containing digitized works is now common practice within these agencies.”At the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, they’re not too concerned yet---the gallery’s provincial and federal funding amounts aren’t in jeopardy, and it’s too soon to tell if endowments and donations have been affected, manager of development Jeffrey Gray says. The gallery has been making small changes in anticipation of reductions in corporate and personal donations, and finding their endowment funds are down (though they won’t learn just how much until their March 31 fiscal year-end). “I think people are used to working with sharp pencils in this region,” Gray says.And with shallower pockets to dig into, Haligonian arts supporters may be better prepared to weather a slow economy than Toronto hedge-fund managers who’ve been watching the markets collapse. Foster comments that Eyelevel “did pretty well” at their last fundraiser earlier this month. “We don’t get a lot of support from the larger organizations with more money. We get a lot of support from the arts community and people there aren’t seeing much of a change in their financial situation.”Though specific projects have been hurt, Harper’s arts cuts haven’t been the kiss of death yet for any local organizations, and since nobody is reliant on muncipal or provincial funding, there’s little concern there. We’re a resilient lot, so keep on gala-ing through the recession---it’s probably your own meagre earnings funding it, anyway.

Buy tickets now for OneLight Theatre’s The Veil, January 15-17 at Neptune Studio Theatre, 8pm with a Saturday 4pm matinee, $17, 425-6812, onelighttheatre.com.

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