An online petition urging Premier Brian Gallant to meet with New Brunswick’s Arts Board has picked up speed since the release of the 2016-17 provincial budget earlier this month.
Plans for the board, or Artsnb, to become part of the government-run Tourism, Heritage and Culture department has fueled #makenoisenb – a social media call from artists everywhere to discuss the changes to Artsnb and voice concerns.
Hundreds of posts have been shared with artists‘ custom photos or artwork with “The premier needs to meet with artsnb” written on these works followed by the hashtag.
For Sophia Bartholomew, one artist behind the petition, the push for Artsnb’s absorption by the THC discredits the work of artists who fought to get Artsnb out of government and into arm’s length mode 25 years ago.
“For the government to step in and say, ‘we know how to do this better’ – that took not only government money but community involvement to build the Arts board as it is now,” said Bartholomew. “They’re making all these assurances but they’re not giving anyone information on how they plan to implement changes.”
Artsnb is an arm’s length organization that deals with funding, applications and access for arts and artists in the province. At arm’s length, Artsnb stands with charitable status and is not fully connected to government. For Bartholomew, moving Artsnb into government could jeopardize this distance.
“It’s unsettling as an artist – there’s a lot at stake. For the government to sort of step in and really abruptly make a change does not seem like the right approach,” she said.
Bartholomew is from British Columbia but has been working as a professional artist in New Brunswick for four years. She’s worked behind the scenes as an organizer and said the system works differently in New Brunswick than it does in most other provinces.
“My first impression was that it seemed really inefficient and seemed strange that all (funding) didn’t go straight through the arts board. It seemed really inefficient because that’s the standard nationally,” she said.
Bill Fraser is the minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture and said the move for Artsnb is a good one. He said key principles of Artsnb’s structure will remain the same with a few exceptions.
“What we’re doing is finding and identifying administrative efficiencies. All the funding that’s being distributed by the board will be by a peer-jury system – same as it is today,” said Fraser. “We’re looking at putting together a new administrative model for the arts board.”
Fraser said the changes will provide better programming and services for the arts board’s main focus: its artists.
“If there’s duplication out there from these organizations we have to find a way to streamline that so the most benefit goes to the people we’re working for – the artists and art organizations in the province.”
Fraser said the financial adjustments to the arts board will not affect the money going to artists. The minister attended an arts and cultural summit in Caraquet, N.B. last week, where the Premier was present out of almost 150 people.
“He (the Premier) gave his guarantee and his government’s guarantee that we’re not going to do anything to affect the arm’s length of the board. We had a discussion about arts and culture and the future of them in our province and how we can strengthen and tie to economic development. We want to move more collaboratively as a group,” said Fraser.
Fraser said the peer-review jury system will not change.
“The board is going to be completely independent – what needs to change is the administrative part of the board. It will still be free from any political interference and operate as an independent body,” he said.
Bartholomew hopes the petition will work to inform artists – not to convince.
“It was important for me to say something because I’ve had experience in both arts and organizing. I think having the perspective of the art ecology that I came from in B.C. – where everything is run through arm’s length – it was an idea that came out of discussions with other artists,” said Bartholomew. “The best decisions are made through consensus and the more people that can voice their concern the better.”