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Citizens protest massive arts cuts

Protesters gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery yesterday at noon to speak out against the massive cuts to BC arts funding. The construction of the rally was art in itself. The artistic statement was not expressed with stilt walkers, flame throwers or anything that resembled a celebration. Protesters wore gray and gathered front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the formation of a large square, which represented a world without art.

The sky reflected the theme of the event, as rain drizzled down over signs consisting of empty wooden frames. The posters, flyers, and buttons distributed were all plain gray.

Kei Baritugo is a publicist who manages the careers of musicians, dancers and film-makers. "Musicians who normally rely on grants are being forced to busk in the streets because we can't book traditional venues. But it is difficult to bring music to the streets because city by-laws restrict music from coming to the street level. What is going to happen to our culture and community?" Baritugo said.

Jojo Zolina and Stewart Iguidez (pictured below) are professional dancer/choreographers, who teach and work in film and fashion. Jojo spoke of long term loss. "We contribute a lot to our city. We build community. When funding is cut and we can't teach art, this breaks the cycles of passing art on to future generations," Stewart said.

Four women from Parker Street Studios stood holding empty wooden signs. Katherine Surridge is a painter and does video installations. Her award winning art has been shown across North America for the past thirty years. "A province without art is uncivilized. We're not just talking about art. We're talking about the spirit of the city and life in general. Creativity develops the right side of the brain and allows culture to grow," she said.

Val Nelson is also a critically acclaimed artist, as well. "Many artists such as myself are self-supporting. I survive by selling my work. I don't rely on grants. However, these cuts will affect aspects of the arts community that are important to my career. In addition to art being my livelihood, it was a fundamental building block of my self esteem as a child."

Spencer Herbert is the NDP's culture critic, and he is an M.L.A. for the Vancouver-Burrard riding. He has fought hard against the current budget cuts to the arts. "This whole situation breaks my heart, and I feel really angry. My caucus wants me to keep up the fight. The arts community has been very supportive. The media has never seen an arts related story stay in the media for three days straight," Herbert said.

One of the speakers at the podium was Nadia Chaney. She spoke to the crowd about the practical use of art. Nadia is a local poet, artist, emcee and activist, who tries to empower unheard people through the arts. She spoke of going to Northern BC with her co-worker, Rupinder Sidhu. They were sent to work with eight students who could not be handled by their school. There was only one school in the community, and it did not have an art teacher.

The eight disconnected students were being taught in the basement of the school board office. Chaney and Sidhu spent two days teaching these students how to sing. They found their voices and made five songs. On the third day the students performed for their school. The teachers and adults of the community were moved by their performance. The kids were like dandelions, Chaney said. They were considered weeds, but they were powerful medicine.

Chaney asked the protesters to picture the phase of a dandelion's growth when it has become a gray ball of seeds. She asked the crowd to imagine themselves as these gray seeds moving out into the community, dispersing into the streets.

Photo by Christabel Shaler
Protesting Arts CutsMLA Herbert

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