Reinstated gaming grants leads to celebration 

Province adds $15 million to gutted fund

click to enlarge Walking Whistler: The Whistler Museum's summer walking tours will hopefully have a greater profile this summer thanks to more funds. Photo courtesy of the Whistler Museum
  • Walking Whistler: The Whistler Museum's summer walking tours will hopefully have a greater profile this summer thanks to more funds. Photo courtesy of the Whistler Museum

Whistler arts and community groups hope to have a bit more breathing space after the Government of British Columbia permanently reinstated $15 million in provincial gaming grants.

In an announcement this month, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the fund is being raised to $135 million, effective immediately, though it is still well below the $150 million it was when the cuts occurred in August 2009. Groups can apply in February and in theory have funds for use later this year.

In 2008/2009, 15 Whistler groups received $259,730. The gutting of the fund the following year meant this dropped to 13 groups receiving $141,109. In 2010/2011, the amount for Whistler had crept back up to $211,450. The total amount for expenditure this year is not yet known.

Leah Batisse, the executive director of the Whistler Museum, said the evaporation of their gaming grant had a negative impact to programming that was immediately felt.

"You can't have efficiency without stability," she said. Batisse said funding for all regional museums in B.C. was withdrawn in 2009, with the Whistler Museum losing its $40,000 grant. The museum was granted $22,000 for its 2011 program, and a further $22,000 with the announcement last spring of a one-off increase of $15 million for the entire province.

This year to date, the museum's gaming grant is $10,000. Batisse said $10,000 is just enough to run a summer program, but would not develop the program further or allow the museum to purchase equipment.

"You never know from one year to the next and it is tough to create effective programming," she said.

Before funding was initially lost, the museum was able to offer one of its more popular summer programs, guided tours of Whistler and had a budget to advertise this to visitors. When it was lost the numbers dropped from 383 in 2009 to 172 in 2010.

Batisse said the museum will file an application for $40,000 shortly and hopes to hear by August if they are successful.

The Whistler Arts Council was hugely impacted by the cuts, gaining no funding at all from the gaming grant fund in 2010/2011 year. Following the cultural programming successes of the 2010 Olympic year.

Doti Niedermayer, the executive director of WAC, called that loss a double hit, given extra Olympiad-related corporate funding dried up, and said she was "very happy" about the fund's increase.

"It's fabulous news. The last two years we've felt it. It shouldn't have been taken away in the first place," she said. "It's not new money, let's not make that mistake.

"We were very badly hit, to the tune of approximately $40,000 — that's an entire program for us," Niedermayer said.

But she added it was worse for others.

"Across the province it was devastating — there were entire arts councils that shut down. It had a huge impact in the community."

This amount, Niedermayer said, represented a third of the cost of the annual Whistler Children's Art Festival and the entire cost of other events.

"Our funding was a complete loss that could not be replaced by (other funding sources). It was really, really tough."

Niedermayer said federal and municipal support continued as before.

"But programs got hungrier, leaner," she said. "They were still successful and you might not have noticed. Now the program can be more robust."

It means reinstating programs the community already knows at a fuller capacity, like Whistler ArtWalk and Art Workshops on The Lake.

"We still have to apply, write a proper proposal and go through the jury process," Niedermayer said.

WAC hopes to add another $20,000 to $40,000 to its programming budget this year.

"I'm feeling quite positive about our program because we did receive it before under the criteria. This year, arts will play a slightly bigger role, thank God," she said.

Overall, the province is reinstating eligibility for adult arts, sports and environmental organizations, along with support for organizations that lost funding in the past three years.


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