Arts funding cuts reversed

Sooke council reinstates requests made by some community groups

Funding cuts to some of the community’s most high-profile organizations have been reversed by Sooke council.

Last month the community grant review community decided that several groups, including the Sooke Fine Arts Society and Sooke Community Arts Council, would face funding cuts due to a new protocol introduced by council earlier this year.

However, council decided Monday night to go against the committee’s recommendations and reinstate some funding.

The Sooke Community Arts Council will receive $4,000 as requested. The committee had recommended no grant. Sooke Fine Arts Society saw its request of $7,000 reinstated. The committee recommended $3,500. Sooke Region Food Chi will get $7,000. The committee recommended no money.

This year the grant process was marred with controversy when the committee’s recommendations were announced. That controversy rolled into council on Monday when council chambers was standing room only, mostly art supporters.

The committee was tasked with reviewing grant requests against council policy during budget debates earlier this year. The grants are not intended to provide ongoing support for an indefinite time.

Few groups attended the committee meetings, but all were sent letters.

“It is important to have public input anytime these sorts of decisions are being made,” said Coun. Kerrie Reay, chair of the grants committee.

“As projects grow and become successful there is some expectation that organizations should become more sustainable financially rather than to continue to rely on public funding,” she said.

“If we don’t have some mechanism then how do we provide opportunity for new groups? New organizations who are also looking for funding that will also provide a valuable service and contribute to the wellness of the community.”

Municipalities are not required to fund grants. The district has a grant program in place since 2001. In that time, more than $1 million has been awarded to non-profit community groups. Since 2006, arts and culture funding has reached $553,000.

This year, council budgeted $72,000 in grant funding. There was $20,000 in new grant requests. To keep the status quo, the grants committee could not accept new projects without cutting back on other recipients.

Sooke Community Arts Council and others say they were “blind-sided and stunned” by the committee’s recommendations, and some stated they did not receive notification of the meeting.

Without municipal funding the arts council does not receive funding from the B.C. Arts Council. That, said arts council president Caryl Wilford, would have affected many events in the arts community.

At issue was the committee’s assumption that municipal money was being re-granted to other groups, which is not permitted under council policy. The arts council said it was not granting any money, but sponsoring some events.

On Monday night, the Sooke Fine Arts Society made an impassion plea to council members: “Let’s not lose our heart. Lets not lose our vision, Let’s not lose our fiduciary responsibility,” said Geraldine McGuire, society president.

Acting mayor Kevin Pearson said the grant committee had a tough challenge this year when council, unanimously, asked it to review the grants policy.

“What’s been missing in Sooke is rigour around the grant process. There are many expectations it will just happen,” he said.

Pearson said what the debate has created an awareness of the grant process and council’s expectations. It will open dialogue.

“It’s telling people that council will look through everything through a fiscal lens and put rigour around process, and if there are conditions with grants, you must meet those conditions.

“There is absolutely no doubt in all of our minds that the arts is a viable part of our community,” Pearson said.