Andrew David Terris

Andrew David Terris, a Nova Scotia artist, says a 2002 decision to shut down that province's arts council and bring some of its function under the Department of Culture "was a big mistake." (Courtesy Andrew David Terris)

A Nova Scotia artist who saw first-hand the dismantling and re-establishment of an arms-length arts council in his province says New Brunswick artists should "fight like hell" to save ArtsNB.

The New Brunswick Arts Board is trying to reverse a $400,000 budget cut that it says could politicize how funding is handed out to artists in the province.

The Gallant Liberals plan to transfer the board's employees inside the civil service.

Nova Scotia went through a similar cut in 2002. The former government shut down the Nova Scotia Arts Council, and moved some of its function under the Department of Culture.

Andrew David Terris says the government argued that it could work more efficiently with the province.

"Of course that was all smoke and mirrors," he said in an interview Thursday on Information Morning Saint John.

"In my opinion it was so they could control the flow of money … political considerations come into play, it's not always based on merit.

"If you're trying to build a creative economy, you really want to fund your most creative artists, and in my opinion, an arms-length arts council is the best way to do that."

'Set arts community back 10 years' 

Terris says there was almost immediate political interference once bureaucrats took over the handling of funding to artists.

In subsequent years, "a lot of money got poured into the music industry, and Cape Breton music industry in particular," he said, pointing out the arts council was shut down by a minister with roots in the fiddling industry.

"I'm not saying there was necessarily anything wrong with that, some good things were done, but I think a lot of areas in the arts suffered. It was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that was a big mistake," Terris said.

"It was clear at the time the minister was trying to interfere in the decisions made, and the executive director told him, 'No way,' so it was bye-bye arts council."

Nine years later, a new government established Arts Nova Scotia in an effort to re-establish an independent arts body in the province.

Terris says it's an improvement, but it's still run by government employees.

"It's an arms-length council, but the arm is very short. … there's some independence, but when you're trying to foster creativity and innovation, you don't do that with government bureaucracies," he said.

Terris says artists should "fight like hell" to preserve the New Brunswick Arts Board while they still can.

"We put up a real battle to save the original Nova Scotia Arts Council. We lost, and I think it set the arts community back about 10 years," he said.

Culture Minister Bill Fraser said he wants to make arts funding more efficient.

Fraser is set to meet with ArtsNB on Feb. 11.