Dear Mr. Macatee,
I am writing to express the Gabriola Arts Council’s fierce opposition to the proposed cuts to ferry service to Gabriola Island. The proposed cancelled runs—in particular the last two runs every evening—will have a significant negative effect on arts and culture on Gabriola Island.
The importance of the arts to personal and community wellbeing, and to social and economic development have been well proven, and indeed this philosophy is what fuels much of the mandates of the government organizations and ministries that provide funding to arts and culture. We struggle to understand how decisions about cutting ferry services have been made in isolation from other stated goals and mandates of provincial and federal levels of government, especially when they so clearly threaten initiatives and achievements supported by those governments.
I can provide numerous specific examples of how these cuts will limit the Gabriola arts community’s ability to attract and build an off-island audience, how it will limit Gabriola community members’ access to cultural events in Nanaimo and nearby areas, and how they will generally have a negative effect on the social, economic and cultural development of this community. Please note the following:
The Gabriola Theatre Festival should celebrate its sixth successful season in 2014. Organizers have worked hard to draw off-island visitors with an event attractive to a performing arts audience from across Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. In 2013, an estimated 20% of our audience members came from off-island, and more than 80% of those were attending evening performances. Those visitors, and potential new audience members responding to the festival’s increased profile, will no longer be able to attend these main-stage performances. The cuts to evening ferry service could cost this small festival an estimated $5,500, or 15% of our operating revenue. This Festival is supported by the BC Arts Council, BC Gaming and the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. It seems shortsighted to provide funding with one hand while reducing revenue-generating opportunities with the other.
Through the Isle of the Arts Festival, we invite Gabriolans and off-island visitors to participate in arts- and culture-related workshops and professional development opportunities. Many of these events are scheduled in the evening. Not only are off-island participants going to be limited, but so are presenters and artists who might deliver workshops or classes, the impact on the Festival is both financial and artistic. As with the Theatre Festival, this festival is supported by the BC Arts Council, BC Gaming and the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Gabriola has a vibrant music and performance community, with regular opportunities for locals and off-island visitors to enjoy a variety of forms of musical presentations at venues across Gabriola Island. These are almost exclusively evening events, and—as with the Theatre Festival—audiences will be adversely affected by decreased access to and from Gabriola.
A number of years ago, the Gabriola community voted (via referendum) to support the Port Theatre in Nanaimo via a tax allocation managed by the Regional District of Nanaimo. The Port Theatre—steps from the Gabriola Ferry Terminal—is a popular destination for Gabriolans wishing to attend theatre or musical performances. As well, a number of Gabriola children attend evening music programs at the Port Theatre. Without evening ferry service, these opportunities disappear.
The City of Nanaimo has invested significant resources in the development of a Cultural Plan. Members of the Gabriola Arts Council participated in this process, and the outcome should lead to an even more robust and rich arts community in this region, with even greater opportunities for local people—including Gabriolans—to participate in arts and culture. Diminished ferry access eliminates these opportunities and leaves Gabriolans unable to participate in off-island cultural events.
These are just a few examples of how the proposed cuts will affect residents of Gabriola Island. In a community in which the percentage of artists in the workforce is three times the national average, this is a significant issue. I have not addressed some of the wider implications for the community, including limited access to sports and recreation opportunities, especially for children and youth; diminished employment opportunities; limited commercial opportunities for local businesses; decreased emergency access etc. I also won’t address the shameful and shortsighted cuts to seniors fares. These and other issues have been acknowledged elsewhere, and also require your urgent consideration.
In a 2002 Press Release announcing changes to the management structure for the ferry system, then Minister of Transport Judith Reid promised that the new system would provide, among other things:
Improved service and customer choice;
Guaranteed service levels and fair rates;
An independent regulator to protect the public interest;
Economic development and job creation.
The proposed cuts break this promise at every level, and are a betrayal of island and coastal communities in BC.
The Gabriola Arts Council takes very seriously our role as stewards of arts and culture in our community. We will use every opportunity to raise our voices against these proposed cuts, and will continue to lobby for more elegant, thoughtful and wise solutions to BC Ferries’ economic woes.
Please take our concerns seriously, and listen to the voices of British Columbians.
Executive Director, on behalf of the Board of Directors, Gabriola Arts Council