With the Alberta government expected to unveil its new budget on April 14, some educators and artists are calling for recent cuts to a long-running arts grant to be reversed.

The 27-year-old Artists and Education grant stream is run by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA), and helps pay professional artists to work with schools on a community-based project or performance.

"I believe that the arts make such a difference for learning," said Susan Parker, principal of Elizabeth Barrett Elementary School in Cochrane. The school has used the grant to hire a theatre group to work with its students and teachers for the last two years.

"If we look at 21st century learning, it's all about creativity. And if you look at the latest research, it shows that creativity is also valued in the workplace. We have a responsibility to endorse that kind of learning."

The Artists and Education grant stream had its budget cut in half  — from $1 million to $500,000 last June. Some supporters and benefactors of the grant are pressuring the government to reinstate those funds.

History of cuts

According to Arts-Ed, a website maintained by artists, educators and parent councils in support of the grant, the Artists and Education program had a budget of roughly $1.3 million at its peak in 2008-09, funding 264 projects at various Alberta schools. 

Susan Parker

Susan Parker, principal of Elizabeth Barrett School in Cochrane, is one of several educators who believes recent cuts to the Artists and Education grant stream should be reversed. (Chris dela Torre/CBC)

In 2010, the AFA cut the grant stream's funding, but those cuts were reversed eight weeks later after public pressure from the grant's supporters.

This year, 75 schools were approved for the grant.

David Chantler is the producing director of Trickster Theatre, a Calgary-based theatre company that works with schools around Alberta, including the Elizabeth Barrett School in Cochrane.

With fewer than half the number of grant approvals compared with previous years, Chantler says he's concerned the AFA will make further cuts to the grant stream's funding, as schools will be increasingly discouraged to apply, giving the appearance of a lack of demand.

"It will wither away and wither away and die because schools won't make the applications because the odds are so low [of being approved]."

"And the reality is there's a massive demand for it."

Chantler also said he's worried the cuts could significantly decrease arts exposure for students in Alberta's rural areas.

The Artists and Education grant covers 75 per cent of project costs for schools outside the province's major cities. In Calgary, Edmonton and their surrounding areas, the Artists and Education grant covers 50 per cent of costs.

Cochrane school

Grade 1 students at Elizabeth Barrett School in Cochrane rehearse a project with Trickster Theatre, funded with the Artists and Education grant. (Chris dela Torre / CBC)

'Many opportunities for youth'

Joan Udell, the chair of the AFA's board of directors, says she cannot yet say whether any changes will be made to the Artists and Education grant stream until the Notley government unveils its budget.

She also points to the existence of several other AFA programs that benefit young people in both urban and rural regions of the province.

"We do provide many opportunities for youth including summer schools, school scholarships, and youth-focused arts organizations. I mean, we've got a lot of programs.

"We also support the Alberta Future Leaders program, which strengthens and empowers youth in First Nations and Metis communities. There are many arts organizations that provide arts programming for youth, and many of them are in rural areas, as well."

'Thoughtful, prudent approach'

A group of artists, educators and school superintendents is lobbying Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda for a meeting in hope of reversing the cuts.

In an email statement to CBC, Miranda says the Artists and Education grant stream "is still very active and we encourage schools to apply for project support. I am confident the AFA board will continue to use a thoughtful and prudent approach in allocating funding to support the development and promotion of the arts to Albertans of all ages, in communities of all sizes across the province."

Educators who want to use the Artists and Education grant in the coming school year have until April 1 to apply.