In front of a packed council chambers of Penticton Art Gallery supporters, curator Paul Crawford made an impassioned plea for council to invest in the value of arts on Monday morning.
Coming off 10 days of Ignite the Arts festivities and events, Crawford said the issue at hand isn’t about cutting their operating funding by more than 50 per cent but about if city council sees value in the arts.
“We had no fore-warning for this. I received no phones calls, no questions from city staff or council. I was blindsided. I had no knowledge that this was going to happen and I was already a quarter into my year. You made the decision a week before the festival that funding for it had been cut from $25,000 to $12,000. I had already booked rooms and artists,” Crawford said.
“Tell me what we’ve done wrong? Why are we being penalized for being successful. We are a non-profit but it is absurd to think we would survive with a zero balance. We’ve been fiscally responsible,” said Crawford to council.
Before this cut in funding, PAG brought 18 exhibitions a year to the gallery, children’s programs and many community events and festivals, he said. The gallery also has seven employees.
He said for city staff to say grant funding for the art gallery has fluctuated each year, is both “misleading and reckless.”
Crawford pointed out that for the past four years, the gallery has been granted the funding they have requested from council of over $120,000. In some of the years, city staff have recommended funding of only $55,000, but council of the day have still funded the full amount.
Up until a few years ago, PAG was a line item in the city’s budget.
In mid-March, council unanimously approved for PAG’s grant funding to be cut to $55,000 from the requested $125,000.
Public outrage has been huge with letters and emails coming to the city and by way of letters to the editor. The packed council chambers was also to support PAG.
Crawford said the city invests hundreds of thousands of dollars for Ironman and Gran Fondo but those events only stay for a week of the year. The gallery provides events, exhibits and community partnerships year-round.
“Treat the arts like you treat sports,” Crawford asks.
Coun. Amelia Boultbee said she doesn’t agree that council doesn’t care about the arts.
Coun. Isaac Gilbert said the way it was presented to council, the gallery needed less help this year so that’s how they voted.
Coun. Ryan Graham said he’ll be making a motion to restore full funding to PAG later in the council meeting. That will have to go to a vote.
“My quarrel is the grant process. We need more dialogue in the lead up to grant process,” Graham said.
Gilbert added that he’d like to see PAG go back into the city’s budget as a line-up so there can be some continuity for the gallery.
Crawford replied that he’d love to go back into the budget instead of having to apply for grant funding each year.
Mayor Julius Bloomfield, who invited Crawford to explain the gallery’s financials, agreed that they need to look at the process of grant funding in future years. But he also criticized Crawford for not identifying their need in the application to the city.
“We probably need presentations for larger grant application before voting on who gets grants,” Bloomfield said.
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