Eleven of Victoria’s performing arts organizations are asking Santa for the gift of financial stability this Christmas.
“I knew the situation Intrepid was in and I started hearing rumours from other organizations that things weren’t going very well, so I decided I would call a meeting to get everyone together to talk about where we were all at,” says Ian Case, general manager of Intrepid Theatre, producers of Victoria’s annual Fringe Festival which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and is facing a $50,000 shortfall.
Nine groups with annual budgets less than $1 million (Story Theatre Company, Puente Theatre, Kaleidoscope Theatre, Ballet Victoria, Theatre SKAM, Suddenly Dance, Theatre Inconnu, The Other Guys Theatre Company and Intrepid Theatre) met Dec. 6 to find a solution to their funding shortfalls (Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre and MediaNet asked to be included in the initiative after the meeting). What they discovered is that each group is facing a deficit between 10 and 20 per cent of their annual budgets, for a cumulative deficit of more than $275,000 — a number that Case says largely correlates with the loss of funding from gaming grants since 2009.
“We are making adjustments but the reality is that the funding loss is so large for such small organizations that it’s having this cumulative build up and it’s putting people in jeopardy. These are people who are making very modest incomes working in the arts. They do it because they love it and they believe in what they’re doing. Those people are feeding their families, paying their rent or mortgage and buying a car, those are the people working in the arts. We have families too and we don’t see other subsidies. Because we work in the non-profit sector, we rely on grants and to be so badly decimated by the province is coming home to roost. We said it was going to happen in 2009 when the cuts first came down,” says Case.
With the idea that there’s strength in numbers, the groups decided to ask the Victoria Foundation for help to find a donor willing to make a large donation to a fund held by the Victoria Foundation to help balance their budgets and in turn keep them from cutting back programs, laying off staff or closing their doors.
“Right now we’re not sure how it would all work …but something that was discussed was the idea of a ‘challenger,’ someone who would step forward and make a large scale donation and challenge other donors, businesses and individuals to make similar contributions. The idea is to balance everybody’s budgets this fiscal year. It’s around $280,000 which is a lot of money, especially for a lot of the smaller arts organizations, but it is a relatively small amount when you look at the amount of money that other charities collect through donations and through sponsorship.”
Case says that the loss of gaming funding, combined with the HST and the weak economy has hit these small arts organizations where it hurts and has meant that they will have to make further cuts if a solution to their shortfalls isn’t found.
“All these small arts organizations, when we look at the numbers together, they have a very impressive contribution to the community — they put on a lot of work, they hire a lot of people, they spend a lot of money locally ($3.6 million), they reach 150,000 people on an annual basis through their activities and they’re hurting right now, their operations are in jeopardy and the only choices that can be made are cuts to staff, which impacts programming, cuts to programming, or finding ways to share resources, which again affects the level of what we can contribute to the community.”
Case started his professional theatre career in Victoria with Theatre Inconnu in 1991. He says it’s not the first time performing arts organizations have faced a similar situation.
“In the ’90s we started to see theatre spaces close, it wasn’t so much that funding was drying up though there were cutbacks, we saw three major alternative venues close in town, the Herald Street Theatre which had been the Kaleidoscope Playhouse, the Planet Theatre which was the theatre space that Intrepid used to run in the Eaton’s Centre and Theatre Inconnu in Market Square. In a two year time span, we saw the alternative performing arts scene in the entire community basically shut down…. there was nowhere for them to produce, nowhere to perform, so we started to see a real brain drain of people who were coming out of university and college that might have stayed in town if there was something to support them. It’s about having that network of support and what we’ve seen after 12 years of stability is the artists and the work that’s being created, the technicians that are being trained with these smaller groups are going on to work at larger companies, larger festivals and art is being created that is having an impact. Something like Atomic Vaudeville’s Ride the Cyclone wouldn’t have been able to exist if it weren’t for the network of small arts groups that support it so it could be produced at the Belfry and then go on tour and get all the accolades that it’s had.
“They were able to take a risk because there were people to support them and help them. There’s a real stability and a real growing concern in terms of the young emerging art and I’d hate to see that jeopardized,” Case says. M