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Arts groups in tailspin over grant cuts

A series of recommendations that could slash funding to several Sooke arts groups will have a trickle-down effect that could cut programs or see the end of some organizations, warn community art leaders.

The community grant review committee is recommending to District of Sooke council to slash funding to both the Sooke Community Arts Council and the Sooke Fine Arts Society, among others.

Sooke Community Arts Council was seeking $4,000 from the municipality. The committee is recommending that the council receive no funds. The fine arts society saw its $7,000 request cut in half.

Two years ago council gave out more than $250,000 in annual grants, bi-annual grants and servicing agreements. Last year council began a new process of reviewing grants, starting with its bi-annual grants. This year that review covered the annual grants.

Coun. Kerrie Reay said the process was open and letters were sent to organizations. Some of those groups showed up at the meeting to discuss their grants, others did not.

“There was no hidden agenda. This was very public in the budgeting process [last year],” she said. “I think the grant committee did a good job going through all the grants. It’s very hard when you’re trying to use taxpayers dollars and when you want to use them for the majority of the community.”

Reay said the committee decision was only the first step. The recommendation still must go to council for ratification, and she suggested all or none of the recommendations could be voted down.

Caryl Wilford, acting president of the Sooke Community Arts Council, said her group did not receive a letter of the meeting and fears a funding cut could be the end of her organization or at the very least curtail its activities.

“We were blind-sided and stunned,” she said.

Without municipal funding, the arts council will lose matching funding from the B.C. Arts Council.

Wilford said without the funding other arts programs are at risk including Art in the Park, Beach Art and Family Art Fair

The Sooke Community Arts Council used the municipal money and re-granted it to other organization, which is not permitted, said Reay.

Wilford disagreed. She said the money used to help other organizations came from the B.C. Arts Council, but Reay points out that money from the B.C. Arts Council wouldn’t be available if the municipal grant was available.

“If we don’t have support of local government and if that carries on for two years, it means that we no longer have the mandate from the B.C. Arts Council and we’re done,” Wilford said.

Catherine Keogan, executive director of the Sooke Fine Arts Society, said she fears what the grants committee has signaled to the rest of the community.

“There were many implied criticisms of the arts in general and that perhaps they’re not for everyone. I would be hard-pressed to think of any good cause that is for everyone, which doesn’t make it any less worthy of support,” she said.

“There certainly is a tremendous cascade of negative effects that we can see coming out of these recommendations, particularly how the community arts council has been affected.”

The 2015 budget allocated $72,788 for annual grants and $50,000 for bi-annual grants. More than $76,000 was requested for the annual grants this year.

District of Sooke council will make a decision on the grants at its Dec. 14 meeting.

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