ARTS FUNDING: DOUBLE IT, DON’T CUT IT

By Peter Sandmark

MediaNet is an artist-run, non-profit media arts resource center, with about 170 members, who produced 120 short video art productions last year. Most of those productions are self-financed by the artists themselves, with the help of their friends and families.

Grants to artists, such as a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts or the BC Arts Council, are a great boost to an artist’s career, but the rate of success for getting a grant is 1 in 10 at the Canada Council for the Arts, for example. At MediaNet, only a few artists get a grant for their project in any given year.

As a result, media arts resource centers like MediaNet or Cinevic provide an extremely valuable service in assisting artists in producing their own work, as the centers offer production and post-production services at a greatly reduced rate compared to commercial rates; about 10% of the cost of renting equipment commercially.  This is possible because we are subsidized by Canada Council and BC Arts Council grants, as well as with funds from the CRD and the BC Gaming Commission.

Last year our members produced over 120 works, and we received a grant of $45,000 plus $7500 for equipment from the Canada Council.  So the Council got 120 videos produced at a cost to them of $437.50 each!  That’s phenomenal!  A media artist can receive from the Canada Council a grant of $60,000 to produce a video or film…  and this is what it costs to make a video when the actors or dancers or performers are paid, and musicians are paid to make the soundtrack, and the equipment is rented, and the editor is paid, and the artist/director  – who has been working on the project for months already – has been paid.   So, how can our members produce works through a center that gets subsidized for only $437.50 per video?  Because nobody is getting paid to make those videos.

Let’s try to evaluate the real value of those 120 videos produced.  For the sake of argument, let’s suppose they can be made for a shoe-string budget, a third of what a granted project would cost, so 1/3 of $60,000, or $20,000. 120 projects at $20,000 each adds up to $2.4 million dollars.  So the Council is getting a value of $2.4 million in production for its investment of $52,500… The Council’s investment adds up to about 2% of the total value of the productions.  Where is the other value coming from?

Well, to be fair, MediaNet gets other funding, and to round up the figures a bit – the BC Arts Council’s investment represents another 1%, the CRD another 1% and the Gaming Commission another 1% (the Canada Council is our biggest funder).  MediaNet does have private sponsors who donate in-kind services that amount to about 0.4% and then our self-generated revenue adds up roughly to  1.6 %

In total, we have about 7% investment from government & private sources, and members’ dues and rentals and so on.  The amount that has to be born by the artists themselves in terms of their “sweat equity” is 93% of the costs of their productions.  And why so much?  Because the arts councils are giving out as much funding as they can.  They are pinnacles of efficiency, with a stripped down staff managing a multitude of programs.  I will not complain about the services of any arts council, because my hat goes off to them; they are doing as much as they can with the amounts they are given. The funding that the arts councils provide play an important role in leveraging other resources, thus helping the creation and presentation of art works.  All this underlines the importance of arts funding, and how critical it is to NOT cut back what little arts funding there is.

But, we must also acknowledge the contribution the artists are making, carrying 93% of the costs.  In order to make their videos they make choices, not only to work for free on their production, and thereby give up time where they could be earning a living in another job, but in most cases spending what little money they do have on their own artistic production.   My conclusion is that it is the artists themselves who are the greatest supporters of the arts in Canada.

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