Nfld. & Labrador

$1M boost for ArtsNL in proposed budget 'a great start'

A collective push for more funding has paid off for artists in Newfoundland and Labrador — at least tentatively.

Increase is dependent on budget being passed; organization still hopes for $5M by 2022

Stan Hill is the chair of ArtsNL, otherwise known as the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council. (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

A collective push for more funding has paid off for artists in Newfoundland and Labrador — at least tentatively — as the Liberal government pledged to increase money to its provincial arts program.

ArtsNL will see its funding rise from $1.9 million to $2.9 million, its first significant increase in more than a decade. The extra money comes through the province's new proposed budget, as requests for funding are at an all-time high.

"It's something that's certainly needed and the arts community will certainly be in favour of this news," said ArtsNL chairperson Stan Hill.

This is a great start and a great step forward.- Stan Hill

The money is dependent on government passing the budget, which will have to wait until after a provincial election.

Local artists have spent the last several weeks campaigning for more seed money to ArtsNL. The group doles out grants to applicants from all over the province, to artists from varied mediums.

Part of the drive was a letter-writing campaign, which Hill said contained personal stories of how ArtsNL helped change people's lives.

"They were very passionate stories and really told what little a investment [can do] and how much that can multiply over a short period of time."

First step towards funding goal

The letters also spoke about how important arts and culture is to the province, not only historically, but also for attracting tourism.

"From my perspective as an Indigenous person, culture is very important to me. And I think as a society and this province, culture is the basis of who we are," Hill said.

Steve O'Connell, centre, takes on the role of Jon Lien in Between Breaths, penned by playwright Robert Chafe, who started the ArtsNL letter-writing campaign. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"It creates the atmosphere of the sense of place, a sense of pride, and it grounds us very much to this place."

The goal of the campaign is to raise funding to $5 million by 2022. Hill said it's up to government to decide how to spread out those increases, but he hopes to see the $1 million raises continue over the next two annual budgets.

"With an election coming up, we will see what happens," he said.

"At the same time, every year's budget is different and we'll certainly make everyone aware that we are still here and we are still looking for that increase. But this is a great start and a great step forward."

Robert Chafe, the artistic director of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland, was one of the first to start the letter-writing campaign to government.

"I think it's a really positive step forward. We were really, really happy and delighted to see that," Chafe said of the funding boost.

"The fund that's there now, the increased $1 million, will go a long way to plug the hole of the fund kind of historically being left to its own devices," he said.

Robert Chafe says he's hopeful this funding increase is the first step in a 'lengthy process' in government investing in the arts. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Inflation wasn't taken into account, Chafe said, when the ArtsNL grant was left at the same amount for nearly a decade, so artists and companies across the province were feeling the pinch.

This money will go directly toward addressing a lack of programming, he said, but hopefully, more money is on the way.

"There's a future for targeted programming within ArtsNL. For example, a specific pull toward Indigenous arts, a specific pull towards inclusion and diversity within the arts," Chafe told CBC's On The Go.

"These are really very real issues within our cultural sector within the province that currently aren't being addressed."

Chafe said he had a positive meeting with Christopher Mitchelmore two weeks ago, who at the time was "really excited" in their talks about addressing those issues, so Chafe remains optimistic it can happen.

But of course, that would depend on him making it back into the role.

Government is expected to announce voters will go to the polls on May 15. Should the Liberals win, the budget would need to be debated in the House of Assembly and passed afterwards.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Katie Breen and On The Go

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