UCP government promises support for artists after slashing arts spending

Every year the UCP has been in power, they’ve cut arts-related operating expenses by $4M, on average.

Last week, the Alberta government announced new legislation that they claimed will “promote greater economic security, freedom of expression and professional recognition for Alberta artists”.

According to the announcement, the Arts Professions Recognition Act is supposed to do the following 4 things:

  • Formally acknowledge artists’ contributions and promote their work and their rights to help make artistic enterprises profitable
  • Emphasize Alberta’s continued commitment to freedom of artistic expression
  • Help protect artists’ economic and contractual rights
  • Model the way for private and non-profit employers and contractors to hire artists

It’s a pretty empty piece of legislation, however, with only 4 sections, the first one being definitions. Here, let me show you.

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Section 2 basically says that any public entity needs to try really hard to respect artists:

A public entity shall undertake, as far as it considers reasonable and appropriate, to

(a) respect, honour and in good faith abide by scale agreements of artists’ associations representing the interests of professional artists engaged by the public entity,
(b) respect the working conditions of professional artists, and
(c) respect, honour and in good faith abide by protocols in respect of working conditions that have been established by artists’ associations representing the interests of professional artists engaged by the public entity.

Public entities, according to the definition in this proposed act, include “the Government of Alberta or a public agency to which the Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act applies”.

Section 3 says that public entities have to use a written contract when using a professional artist:

Subject to the regulations, a public entity shall not contract with or retain the services of a professional artist for any of the following purposes, whether on a not-for-profit or for-profit basis, without having entered into a written contract with that professional artist:

(a) to produce an artistic work or product;
(b) to present an artistic work or production to the public;
(c) to engage in an enterprise that circulates or disseminates artistic works to the public, including lending, leasing, exchanging, depositing, exhibiting, publishing, publicly presenting or using artistic works in any other similar manner.

And finally, section 4 gives permission for the lieutenant governor to regulate certain artists:

The Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations

(a) prescribing artistic fields for the purposes of section 1(a)(v);
(b) respecting exemptions from the requirement to enter into a written contract under section 3;
(c) defining, for the purposes of the Act, terms used but not defined in this Act;
(d) respecting any other matter or thing that the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers necessary for carrying out the purposes of this Act.

At the end of their announcement, the government claims that this proposed act, if passed, will be “part of the government’s commitment to grow creative and cultural industries in the province by 25% over the next 10 years”.

However, it’s unclear how this regulation will accomplish that, given that it doesn’t do a whole lot other then tell government bodies to respect artists and use written contracts.

It’s also unclear how this legislation meets the 4 outcomes the legislation highlighted, which I listed above. At least not in any meaningful way.

On the note of growing creative industries in Alberta by 25% over the next 10 years, there’s something you should know: the UCP government has been cutting arts funding for years.

Here, look at arts funding for the last 4 years. This is the total amount spent by the government per year on operating expenses:

Arts$3.30 M$3.32 M$2.99 M$2.85 M
AFA assistance29.84 M$28.24 M$24.24 M$25.59 M
Total$33.14 M$31.56 M$27.23 M$28.44 M
AFA is the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. These amounts are taken from the government estimates documents of each budget year.

What we see is significantly less spending every year that the UCP has been in power, compared to the last year of the NDP administration. If we add up the amounts of underfunding for each year ($1.58 million, $5.91 million, and $4.7 million), we end up with the arts being underfunded by $12.19 million over the last 3 years. That’s an average of $4.06 million per year.

Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re going to underfund the arts by over $4 million a year, it’s going to be kind of tough to grow the creative industry by 25% over the next 10 years.

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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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