Artists lament loss of arts grant
Government pulls funding on program that allowed performers to go on tour
Classical guitarist Ramses Calderon spent most of August in Central America, performing concerts and networking. It’s the last such experience he’ll have thanks to the Culture on the Go grant.
The Saskatchewan government cut the grant in its March budget.
“The whole purpose of that program was actually to bring the production that we have outside, so that people know what we produce in Saskatchewan nationally and internationally,” said Calderon, who lives in Regina.
After a near decade of supporting Saskatchewan artists in showcasing their work, the final projects funded by Culture on the Go (CoGo) are winding down.
The provincial government had funded the grant since 2009, when it was established as a three-year pilot program to be developed and delivered by the Saskatchewan Arts Board. Since 2013, it had been jointly offered through the Arts Board and Creative Saskatchewan.
While both organizations support the work of local artists, Creative Saskatchewan has a specific mandate to promote commercial viability and profitability. It was given the bulk of the funding for two of four years.
Networking during Calderon’s 23-day ‘Cuerdas de America’ tour of four countries led to two future gigs: An invitation to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in December, and a tour of Paraguay in May next year.
“All those other projects that are coming up now, they wouldn’t have happened before. It allows you to be on the scope in that sense, in my case international … That’s thanks to the fund,” said Calderon, who received $17,550 in CoGo funding through the arts board for his most recent tour, and has received the grant several times before.
The grant did not only support national and international touring.
Saskatoon’s Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre, formerly known as the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company, has relied for years on Culture on the Go to bring its Christmas show to communities like Duck Lake, Beardy’s and Okemasis, La Ronge, North Battleford, Maple Creek and Regina.
This year’s show, Curtis Peeteetuce’s Vegas Vacation, will tour to at least 10 locations with a $35,000 CoGo grant through the arts board.
Next year, the company will have to look to other funding sources.
“That is a lot of money for us to replace. I don’t know if anybody is going to step forward and say ‘we want to do that,’ ” said Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, administrator for the theatre company.
Touring makes art accessible to people who might not otherwise experience it, said Okemay simSicotte.
CoGo’s cancellation makes for “a void, especially when they’re used to having it be delivered in their community, and they look forward to it,” she said.
Okemaysim-Sicotte estimated at least 2,000 people see the company’s work on tour, which has opened up opportunities for Indigenous youth.
“It’s actually a networking and recruitment opportunity for the younger people,” she said.
“They get to see someone like themselves on the stage performing, speaking in their language, dressing up and doing lighting, doing sound, directing. It plants a seed of their own creativity, that there is an opportunity out there.”
The Saskatchewan Arts Board has funded 112 organizations and 249 independent artists through CoGo over the years.
That includes the Regina Symphony Orchestra, which received $32,841 to fund its recently announced tour with Buffy SainteMarie to three First Nations in the spring.
In 2013 and 2014, Creative Saskatchewan was given the bulk of CoGo money, $600,000 as compared to the arts board’s $200,000.
In 2015, funds were split 50/50, then reduced by half in 2016, before being cut altogether this year.
Creative Saskatchewan’s CoGo money was awarded through two existing and ongoing grant programs, one for tour support and one to help artists market themselves elsewhere.
Because of the CoGo cut, which would have topped up existing grants, the Creative Saskatchewan well is dry until the next fiscal year begins in April.
That’s frustrating to Regina singer-songwriter Jeffery Straker, who benefited from CoGo grants through the arts board and Creative Saskatchewan.
“There is some great momentum in a lot of projects that could really use it,” said Straker, who is currently on tour in Nova Scotia.
“The goal for every artist is actually to bring their work and make it available to everyone, and I think it’s very important in this case for Saskatchewan to give support to their artists,” said Calderon.
“As a classical guitarist,” he added, “how many concerts can I give in Regina?
“The only way to be able to grow is by expanding, and that was the main purpose of this grant … to be able to promote what Saskatchewan brings … to the national society but also to the international society.”
Classical guitarist Ramses Calderon’s most recent tour of Central America was funded by a provincial government grant. Networking during that tour led to gigs in Brazil and Paraguay for the Regina musician.