Nova Scotia

Arts groups push for end to 10-year provincial funding freeze

Nova Scotia's Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage offers operating grants to 153 not-for-profit artistic, cultural and heritage groups annually. The $6.5-million grants budget hasn't risen in 10 years.

Program review at N.S. Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage to be completed by fall

Halifax-based arts groups pushed for funding increases at a Nova Scotia Legislature committee meeting on Tuesday. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Three Halifax-based arts organizations got a chance to speak directly to provincial politicians Tuesday, each making the case for more money from the Nova Scotia government.

"We want to see an increase in operating funding for arts non-profit organizations," Emily Davidson told the legislature's standing committee on community services. "That will really help these organizations thrive and stay afloat."

Davidson is president of 1588 Barrington Building Preservation Society, the group that owns the Kyber building in downtown Halifax. The group is raising funds to create "a new multipurpose home for the arts," focusing on emerging artists.

Although the group doesn't receive operating grants from the province, it is advocating on behalf of those who could use its space.

Sally Wolchyn-Raab, artistic director of the Eyelevel Gallery, also stressed the need for greater support in her presentation to elected officials.

"The biggest thing is that our concerns are financial," she said. "More robust provincial and municipal funding through operating funds would be really the biggest thing that would support our organization."

The Bus Stop Theatre on Gottingen Street in Halifax has been operating for 17 years. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Although in recent years the McNeil government has committed big money to high-profile arts projects, including a new waterfront art gallery and the transformation of the former Halifax World Trade and Convention Centre into a cultural hub, the amount of funding available to grassroots arts organizations hasn't changed in a decade.

Nova Scotia's Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage offers operating grants to 153 not-for-profit artistic, cultural and heritage groups annually. The $6.5-million grants budget hasn't risen in 10 years.

The department's new deputy minister, Justin Huston, told the all-party committee that although the department's overall budget has increased, the arts groups were correct that the money earmarked for their operations had not.

"Our operating funding for arts organizations has not increased for several years, and I want to be clear [about] that, I'm not trying frame it in a different way," said Huston. "But operating funding is a piece of the funding, our project and other program funding has increased."

Department review

But the freeze hasn't just affected groups getting grants. It has prevented others from being eligible, according the Bus Stop Theatre's executive director, Sebastien Labelle. 

"The Bus Stop Theatre has been operating for 17 years," he said. "We're one of the most successful performing arts venues in Nova Scotia.

"We do not get operating funding and when we ask the program officers if we can apply, we are discouraged from applying because we are told, 'Don't waste your precious time and resources, the so few that you have, in applying for a grant that you will not get because there's no money available.'"

The department is currently reviewing all its programs to see if the money it currently has is being spent where it should.

Huston told CBC News after the meeting that an increase in the budget for operating grants could be one of the results.

"We're going in with an open mind and perspective on what might come out of that," he said. "So that is certainly an aspect of it.

"But what we're looking at really right now is the current programs that we have in place and the dollars that we have in place. Are we using them as effectively as we can?"

Huston said the review should be completed by the fall.

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