Arts and culture funding in limbo in Manitoba

Organizations who received funding with the arts, culture and sport in community fund are asking the new government to keep the program going, amid new revelations it was not included in the 2023 budget. Joanne Roberts reports.

There was a point where Winnipeg’s Deer Lodge Curling Club may have been on the brink of shutting down.

The curling club on Woodlawn Street, which has been in operation for more than a century, needed a rooftop replacement this year, and a rooftop furnace replacement the year before.

Part of the funds – $100,000 over those two projects – came from Manitoba’s Arts, Culture and Sport in Community fund (ACSC).

Reg Sims says he hopes the government keeps its fund for Arts, Culture and Sport in Community a priority. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

“It’s hard to say for sure but I’m thinking that it could have been the demise of the curling club,” recalled Reg Sims, who’s on the board of the DLCC.

“We were able to make the upgrades that we needed to keep the building functioning.”

It’s one of many arts, culture and sports organizations in Manitoba that rely on the ACSC to function properly – and in some cases, to stay afloat.

But now the $50 million fund itself is at risk, Manitoba’s new NDP government revealed Tuesday.

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The Progressive Conservatives announced they were renewing the fund but didn’t include it in the budget, says Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew. The NDP leader claims the PCs were spending recklessly in a bid to be re-elected.

“It’s money that was treated as a serious government announcement, there were numerous individual announcements under that header delivered across the province,” Kinew said. “This money is not in budget 2023.

“To me that’s very clearly an example of a very public series of announcements the outgoing PC administration made and which they had not planned to pay for.”

Kinew outlined “one of the worst deficits” Manitoba has ever seen – except for pandemic years. The deficit, originally pegged at $363 million, is now forecast to end up at $1.6 billion.

WATCH: Manitoba government sees deficit increase fourfold

That has the NDP exploring where the money for the ACSC will come from, leaving community organizations that need the funding in the dark.

“My hope is that the new government sees the benefit of this grant,” said Sims, who’s been at the curling club since 1983. “So many of the non-profit organizations are in a lot of trouble.

“It’s always been a part of the community. Part of our mandate and our mission is that we don’t just provide a recreational facility, but we supply a social need for the community.”

‘We don’t want to lose these types of buildings’

Sims is no stranger to writing grants, or even to saving old buildings. He’s also the president of the St. James Assiniboia Pioneer Association, which operates Grant’s Old Mill – the recipient of ACSC funding.

“We’re at a point now that we have to take the building right down to the foundation and build all new logs,” said Sims, who estimates the $300,000 received so far covers half of what’s needed to replace the logs in the building.

“I think if (funding) was consistent, then buildings wouldn’t get to be in such bad condition that they need so much money coming in to fix them.

“We don’t want to lose these types of buildings. This is on the culture side. It tells the story of Cuthbert Grant, it talks about the history of water-powered grain milling in Winnipeg, in Manitoba. We try and tell a lot of the stories of what life was for the Métis people in the early 1800s to mid-1800s.”

Grant’s Old Mill Museum needs extensive renovations down to its foundation. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

The ACSC fund is also helping the Gas Station Arts Centre get new house lights, carpet and seating – something executive director Nick Kowalchuk says is desperately needed.

“Seating came into the building 40 years ago, used. And so it is time to replace it, even though it’s kind of funky, it really is tired,” said Kowalchuk, who adds the new seating will be comfier and offer some recline.

The Gas Station Arts Centre received $200,000 through the ACSC.

“When this money came in, then we received money from the Winnipeg Foundation and we received matching money, so it allows us to do even more for the theatre,” Kowalchuk said.

Nick Kowalchuk sits in the new seats the theatre is receiving through the ACSC fund. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

The executive director says the fund is saving many arts organizations that are in dire straits, and he hopes the government is eventually able to set up a permanent fund for organizations.

“When it comes to capital expenditures, capital improvements, there needs to be funds that are available that allow us to keep it sustainable and vital,” he said.

“Support for the arts not only needs to increase, but it needs to continue right? Because it’s getting us through these difficult times, that we’re providing a great service for our community.

“In the arts in general it’s tough, especially post-COVID that people are not coming back like they used to, and so our attendance is down. It’s going to take years to build back up.”

The new seats and carpet the Gas Station Arts Centre patrons will enjoy soon. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

Update on ACSC fund coming in 2024

In a statement to CityNews, Manitoba’s minister of sport, culture and heritage says he’s reviewing many of the “last-minute promises” and “mismanagement” made by the previous administration.

“After years of drastic cuts and being ignored by the previous government, community clubs, municipalities, cultural groups, and amateur sports organizations were starved for the resources they needed to provide sporting and recreational activities in their communities,” Glen Simard wrote. “It wasn’t until the 11th hour that the previous government fast tracked this fund to try and entice voters.

“Our government was elected to rebuild trust and to present common sense solutions to the problems faced by all Manitobans.”

Simard says the NDP government recognizes the need for investments in communities. He’s committing to provide details about the ACSC program “by the new year.”

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