Alberta’s Culture and Community Spirit Minister wrapped up a province-wide dialogue tour on Wednesday sharing some bad news but stating he felt positive about the roundtable discussions with stakeholders from the arts and non-profit sector.
“It was a good discussion to talk about challenges, the state of what the sector sees itself in different areas. We talked a little bit about the upcoming budget but more what we need to do in going forward to sustain the sectors, to promote ourselves, and to have Albertans understand better the importance of arts and culture.”
He suggested the acceptance of Alberta Arts Days is proof that the province gets the value of arts as it enriches overall the quality of life but he would like to see that acceptance embraced year-round.
“I think that, in the most part, they do but we need to do better. I think a lot of people realize that we have to communicate with one voice.”
Blackett was referring to how the arts sector isn’t united across the province by a single representative body like many sports groups. At the same time he dropped the bad news that he anticipates having to cut funding by 10 to 15 per cent due to new budgetary constraints. Since his portfolio only has a budget of $300 million, meagre in comparison to other ministries, he refers to this as a “haircut.”
The six-stop tour included visits to Fort McMurray, Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer and Grande Prairie before ending at Government House near the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. Gail Barrington-Moss, the director of cultural services for St. Albert, and Nancy Abrahamson, the director of the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival, were both in attendance at Wednesday’s session.
Barrington-Moss was encouraged by the opportunity to share her thoughts with the minister and looks forward to continued discussions.
“He wanted to hear from the community, to hear about some of the challenges … he wanted to communicate what he was doing as our minister. It was very open and free flowing. I was impressed,” she said. “He’s very frank.”
She liked his idea of banding together the normally individualistic arts sector in order to better present and represent itself to the government and broader public.
“We need to all be involved in the next generation of artists and art appreciators.”
Invitations to the dialogues were sent broadly but the Arts and Heritage Foundation (AHF) didn’t hear about it until the Gazette asked for comment. Executive Director Paul Moulton figured it was a clerical oversight despite the non-profit organization being one of the few cultural groups of its kind in the entire province and one of the two major recipients of grant funding from Blackett’s office.
“It’s been a bit of an uphill battle to grow our profile and our visibility but I think we’re on the cusp of something,” he said, hinting that there are always big plans for culture here. He was disappointed about missing out on this round especially since the AHF was involved in discussions with the minister last year. After contacting the office of Culture and Community Spirit, the deputy minister apologized for the oversight and promised to make a personal visit next week to meet the staff and learn more about the organization’s activities.
“I took that to be a really good sign.”