Artists in Quebec are furious after hearing the news on Tuesday that the province intends to make a substantial cut in arts funding.

Quebec Culture Minister Hélène David made the surprise announcement on the eve of the St-Jean-Baptiste provincial holiday that $2.5 million would be cut from the budget of the Quebec arts and letters council (known by its French acronym CALQ.)

Stanley Péan of the Mouvement pour les arts et les lettres (MAL) said the announcement was rude awakening.

"To cut $2.5 million dollars in Conseil des arts et des lettres is a hell of a way to wish the artistic milieu a happy St-Jean-Baptiste," Péan said.

He said the cuts would directly affect the number of grants given out to Quebec artists.

The CALQ's 2013–2014 annual report details the $76 million in grants the council gave to artists and artistic organizations.

Péan called David's announcement an "historic event" that "for the first time has targeted our base organizations."

He said it was an about-face after the last budget, which promised not to touch CALQ's artist credits.

Details of budget cuts

Of the $2.5 million in cuts, $500,000 will be cut from the administrative budgets of a number of large Quebec arts organizations and services.

According to the MAL, the $700,000 co-production program that matches the sums a Quebec artist is able to raise outside of the province will be cancelled this year. Another $700,000 will come out of the grant budget for artistic organizations.

The province said the cuts were part of the zero-deficit goal the government has been after since the Liberals took office.

Meanwhile, the CALQ has been asking for budget increases for years.

Last spring, the organization saw its budget increase by $11 million, to $106 million.

However, the MAL is careful to explain that most of that — $8.5 million — is part of a transfer that saw the responsibility for funding the Montreal Symphony Orchestra shift from Loto-Québec to the CALQ.

The remainder went toward new credits for the province's digital strategy.

The CALQ has asked for a meeting with the minister to make a last-ditch plea to reverse the cuts.