UCP cut arts funding by over $10 million

The UCP recently announced that applications were open for Alberta Culture Days grant funding. But there’s something you should know about arts funding in Alberta.

At the end of March, the Alberta government announced that the application process was now open for Alberta Culture Days 2021 grants.

In the announcement, Leela Aheer, the minister of culture, multiculturalism, and status of women, indicated that there would be grants of up to $10,000 available to organizations to plan and hold events, showcase local talent, and boost cultural programmes in their communities.

Groups that are awarded grants will be designated as 1 of 3 celebration sites:

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  • Feature sites: up to 3 days of programming, may get up to $10,000
  • Host sites: 2 days of programming, may get up to $5,000
  • Pop-up sites: 1 day of programming, may get up to $1,000

These amounts are similar to those announced in 2019 under the NDP government.

While the funding amounts per grant hasn’t changed in the last 2 years, that doesn’t mean that funding overall hasn’t changed.

For example, the 2019–2020 annual report for Aheer’s ministry claimed that $200,000 in funding was provided through the Alberta Culture Days grant programme.

Unfortunately, previous annual reports don’t show this total, so it’s difficult to compare spending in this specific programme.

What we can compare, however, is total spending to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the organization that manages arts funding in the province. The same annual report listed the grant information with the AFA summary

The 2021–2022 Government Estimates document shows that the government has budgeted $25.585 million this year for the AFA. Last year, they had budgeted $26.935 million. So, they cut AFA funding by $1.35 million this year compared to this past year.

The year before that—their first year in power—the UCP budgeted $28.355 million for the AFA. That means they cut AFA funding by $1.42 million in their 2nd budget year and now $1.35 million in their 3rd year.

And that’s just budgeted AFA funding. The UCP budgeted $28.355 million for the AFA in 2019–2020, but ended up spending $28.241 million. Likewise, last year, they budgeted $26.935 million, but spent only $24.24 million.

That means that the government underspent on AFA funding by $2.809 million.

But how does it compare to the NDP’s AFA spending?

Well, the NDP cut spending to the AFA their first year in power, from the $28.05 million received in 2015 under the PC government to $26.65 million in 2016 under the NDP’s first budget, a decrease of $1.4 million.

However, they made up for that cut in subsequent years with significant increases. Here’s how spending for the AFA looked since 2015:

in million $. The 2021 amount is a forecasted amount; all the others are actual, final spending amounts.

Under the NDP, the AFA received a net increase of $3.46 million in total funding, which works out to an average of $865,000 more each year.

With the UCP, however, spending has dropped every year, with a total of $7.27 million cut from the AFA budget over just two years, an average decrease of $3.635 million per year.

As far as total funding goes, the AFA received $116.33 million combined under the NDP, for an average of $29.083 million per year. Under the UCP, they’ve received a total of $52.481 million, or an average of $26.241 million.

Had the UCP kept AFA funding at $31.51 million—the amount they inherited from the NDP—the AFA would’ve received $10.539 million more over the last 2 years than they did.

Which makes me wonder how much the Alberta Culture Days grants have been underfunded since 2019.

Update (15 April 2021): In an email sent to me, Deirdre Tombs, a communications advisor with the ministry’s Communications and Public Engagement department, indicated that the grant is not administered by the AFA, which an earlier version of this story had reported. She also provided funding amounts for the grant over the last 7 years

The 2021 amount is a budgeted amount. All other amounts are actual spends.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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