Funding limbo continues for major cultural projects

This week's provincial budget did not provide clarity to several organizations waiting for major funding decisions by the PC government.

Private funding sits on table as government reviews projects

The $65 million Inuit Art Centre waits for yes or no on provincial support. (Rendering by Michael Maltzan Architecture)

This week's provincial budget left several major cultural organizations waiting even longer in the dark on decisions for funding some signature projects.

Without answers there is growing anxiety as organizers worry about looming deadlines and losing matching funds from other levels of government and private donors.

The 2017 provincial budget has no dollars attached for the $75-million Diversity Gardens project at the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, or for the $65-million Inuit Art Centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as well as other cultural and community projects.

The Conservancy and the WAG received financial commitments from the previous NDP government, but the Progressive Conservative government said several months ago those plans were being reviewed and a decision would be coming in the near future.

When asked last September when the reviews of these projects would be complete, Premier Brian Pallister said "soon." He said the review will merge with pre-budget consultations and be completed through the final quarter of the year.

But on budget day, Tuesday, nearly eight months later Pallister said there was no news about funding for the Inuit Art Centre.

"Not yet and it is fair to say that and it is disappointing," Pallister told reporters.

We need clarity

The CEO and director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery says he needs some specifics.

WAG director Stephen Borys says some private funding is linked to provincial support for the Inuit Art Centre. (Jeff Stapleton CBC News )

"We're waiting for some clarification. Because if you had just listened to the budget speech you wouldn't have known what was coming out of it in terms of this. There were the Premier's comments. There have been other comments coming out. We're hoping for some sort of clarification," says Stephen Borys.

The project would house the largest collection of Inuit art in the world and includes many pieces on loan from the Nunavut government.

Borys says there are concerns not knowing what the Progressive Conservative government has decided, and ultimately it has a price.

"There is anxiety in terms of, if things are postponed, what that costs us financially, who we lose out [in terms of private and public funders]."

After years of planning and private fundraising, work on the art centre is scheduled to begin this spring, but Borys says the absence of the province in the project could have a domino affect.

"There could be as much as a year delay. And that year delay changes funding. The federal money must be spent by March 31, 2018. And we would lose private sector money without the provincial support."

The federal government has a firm commitment for $15 million, the City of Winnipeg is in for $15 million and the private sector has committed nearly $20 million. But there are links between what private donors have offered and expectations from government grants.

"A significant portion of the private money that has been pledged is pending provincial funding. That's anywhere between five and seven million," Borys says, adding that more private donations are in the pipeline, pending approval from Manitoba.

The lack of information has prompted some organizations to remain quiet in the hope eventually some funds will flow. Others are cautiously optimistic the merits of their projects will convince the government to get on board.

Assiniboine Park Conservancy's Diversity Gardens project among those waiting for a sign from the PC government. (Assiniboine Park Conservancy)

The Diversity Gardens project at the Assiniboine Park Conservancy has a request in for $35 million from the federal government and hopes for $15 million from Manitoba. They've already raised approximately $10 million from private donors.

"I would certainly admit to being anxious to have that confidence moving forward. But because we have really been able to continue to work on the project we still just have a lot of excitement," says Conservancy president and CEO Margaret Redmond.

A statement Wednesday from Pallister's office did little to offer timelines or indications any decisions have been made.

"We recognize the importance of cultural projects to our community. All current funding applications for cultural projects continue to be reviewed and assessed on the basis of established value for money and return on investment measurements," the statement reads.