The Indefinite Arts Centre, which survived the collapse of the roof at Fairview Arena and is hoping to build a new facility to serve disabled artists, feels snubbed by the federal government, which allocated $110 million in arts funding in Calgary.
Ottawa pledged $80 million for an ambitious expansion of the Arts Commons and another $30 million, contingent upon contributions from the province and the city, for Contemporary Calgary to construct the city’s first major contemporary art gallery. Meanwhile, Indefinite Arts Centre did not see a penny despite requesting $7.5 million from the province and the federal government.
Jung-Suk Ryu, CEO of the centre, said Friday’s funding announcement is bittersweet.
“We, as an organization, can only thrive under the thriving arts ecosystem in Calgary, and Contemporary Calgary and Arts Commons are vital components of that, but at the same time I feel like we’ve been lied to,” he said.
“It begs the question of due process and fairness when it comes to these types of funding decisions.”
He said their organization has engaged with the federal government over the past year to discuss its plans to build a better facility following the roof failure at the nearly 50-year-old Fairview Arena in February 2018, and its subsequent demolition. From these conversations, Ryu understood the province had to determine it was a priority project before the federal government steps in to assist.
Being partially connected to the former arena, Ryu said the damage has greatly impacted their current space, which has a slanted roof, water pooling in different areas, cracks in the walls and structural erosion.
“These are imminent issues that have to be addressed,” he said. “Is it ideal to serve the needs of our community? No. Is it ideal from a safety perspective? No. From a longevity perspective? Absolutely not. So we’re quite keen to move this project forward.”
The Friday announcement, he said, was a disappointment because it appeared the commitment was made prior to provincial prioritization. Ryu believes the capital decision was made through a “purely political lens” with the federal election mere months away.
He asked, “are we not going to go ahead because we don’t happen to be in the riding of a cabinet minister?”
Both Arts Commons and the contemporary gallery are in MP Kent Hehr’s riding in Calgary’s core.
“These organizations have been at it for over a decade, working hard each and every day to try and get a new arts core in both the west end and a revitalization in downtown. This is not something that came up overnight,” Hehr told Postmedia Saturday.
“This has been worked on long and hard for the last four years and we finally came to a point where we said we can support these organizations and get these projects started.”
He said the Liberal party has a positive record in supporting Canada’s disabled community and he will continue to be a champion for organizations, like Indefinite Arts.
Ryu isn’t the only critic of the major arts investment.
On Friday, the province dismissed the federal support as “pre-election posturing” with Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda drawing attention to oversubscription in regards to the joint federal-provincial funding source identified for Contemporary Calgary called the Investing in Canadian Infrastructure Program. This program will not fund the Arts Common expansion.
He said the program has exceeded the province’s funding allocations with over 700 applications received. They will be revised and eligible for Budget 2020 funding, but Panda said the United Conservative government needs time to assess the submissions in relation to the upcoming Alberta budget.
Ryu is still optimistic about the Indefinite Art Centre’s future and said they are having positive conversations with the new provincial government. He hopes they will be partially funded by the province in the upcoming budget, and if not the following year’s capital plans.
Indefinite Arts serves more than 300 artists living with developmental, physical and acquired disabilities through a range of programs. It has a current wait list of two years to access its services, which Ryu said is because of funding and space restrictions.