artsnb issued the following release on their website today in response to the provincial governments budget announcement yesterday:
The New Brunswick Arts Board (artsnb) is deeply concerned by today’s announcement by the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture that it will be firing all artsnb staff and bringing jobs that were previously held by arm’s length, impartial staff into its Department.
Despite a general effort by Government to cut departmental staff, the Department is cutting $400,000 from the artsnb budget over two fiscal years in favour of hiring additional Department employees to do jobs already being done cheaply and well by artsnb staff.
Starting with a $200,000 cut in FY 2016-2017, effective April 1, 2016, and followed by a second cut by an additional $200,000 in FY 2017-2018, the Department is removing the entire budget for independent, arms-length staff to help run juried awards of grants, to provide outreach to aboriginal communities, and to act as advocates for New Brunswick artists.
This cut of $400,000 from the budget of artsnb amounts to a reversal of the recent increases in the last two years by the Government of New Brunswick.
We all want to save a buck. But the artsnb budget is small and these changes will not save New Brunswickers money. So if this is not being done to save money, what is the intention of the Department in removing all staffing from artsnb?
Arts boards exists to ensure artistic freedom free from political interference. It’s why other provinces have them, and why the Canada Council exists. It’s a proven model here and internationally.
Minister Bill Fraser has advised artsnb that his government is committed to an arm’s length model with a peer jury system of review, to ensure that the work supported with public funds met standards of rigor and excellence. However, this system only works if it is far from the reach of political interference. Further, independent artsnb staff are needed to ensure that public policy on culture and the arts is shaped by engaged discussion from diverse viewpoints. This is why all provinces have independent arts boards and granting systems.
Who cuts the cheques and why does it matter?
Yesterday’s budget also contained a cut for the film industry in New Brunswick – a cut from $5 million in funding to $2.5 million – a figure much lower than the $3.5 that was the Film industry’s previous funding level. Who is bringing these changes to the attention of the public? It is part of the legislated mandate of artsnb to challenge these decisions. Staff working for the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture will be unable to do this important advocacy work.
New Brunswick’s arts board was established through political pressure from artists and arts organizations in 1989. Though it began inside government, pressure to make it fully independent finally resulted in the first New Brunswick Arts Board Act, which was tabled in 1991.
Areas of concern
artsnb is on the cusp of finalizing an agreement with the New Brunswick Foundation for the Arts (NBFA) to complement the public funds already administered by the arts board with funds raised from private donors, and also to encourage arts organizations to build endowments to secure their future. Further, these organizations intend to offer a service to manage funds for organizations that lack the internal capacity. This is in the long term interest of stabilizing the financial future of the provincial arts sector.
We have some serious concerns about how the implementation of the new supposed ‘arm’s length’ model would work within the Department:
- Conflict of interest: Would there be real or perceived conflict of interest for artsnb employees if their employer is the government?
- Integrity of the peer jury process: Which peer jury process would be employed? That of artsnb, or a cheaper, less independent version conceived of by the Department?
- Cashflow and response time: Would our short deadline to deliver funds to artists lengthen without independent accounting services paid for by artsnb, but instead falling into the queue with other government accounting projects? Artists need their funding fast. Also, funding active partnerships with other jurisdictions would be difficult if funneled through the Department of Finance.
- Charitable status and private fundraising: Private donors have no appetite for donating to government programs, and the partnership between artsnb and NBFA would be undermined.
- Alternate resources: If artsnb staff were civil servants, grant funding for special indigenous artists projects through JEDI, PETL, would no longer be possible.
- Real savings? What would be the real savings be in absorbing artsnb into the Department? The cost for running our juried programs would alter very little. Is this really about money?
- Transparency and accountability: What losses in transparency and accountability would there be by moving the arts board inside government?
- Public engagement: artsnb has a robust online presence and is working to reach those beyond the tent to illustrate the public value of arts funding through strong storytelling and cross-sectoral partnership. Independent communications is a large part of this success.
This is a cut to democracy more than it is a savings to the provincial budget, and undermines the work that artists across New Brunswick have made to ensure that public policy respects the importance of arts and culture.
According to its release, the government is assuring artsnb that not a dollar will be removed from public arts funding with the government’s proposed change to the funding model. If this isn’t about money, why make the change?
We believe that the arts board has more to offer the province as fully arm’s length rather than at ‘finger-length’: in private fundraising capacity, nimble and responsive program delivery to artists, a solid peer jury process, strong communications and arts advocacy, and a broader spectrum of arm’s length program offerings to aboriginal groups and others.
We ask that government review its plan to create additional bureaucracy and new jobs for its Department and, if necessary, make the fiscal cut to artsnb’s budget but avoid crippling the independence of our provincial arts board.
Freedom in expressing the needs of New Brunswick’s artists matters.