Government takes art seriously

A thriving arts scene fuels a thriving economy. Not the other way around. Arts and culture have created many jobs in the territory — both…

A thriving arts scene fuels a thriving economy.

Not the other way around.

Arts and culture have created many jobs in the territory — both full-time and contract, Culture Minister Elaine Taylor told a crowd gathered at the Arts Underground Gallery on Tuesday.

“It is who we are, and it is what makes us proud to be Yukoners.”

In fact, there are more than 500 full-time cultural workers in Whitehorse, according to a 2001 census.

In a city with a total labour force of 12,000 and change, those odds aren’t bad.

And it puts Whitehorse near the top of the pile — at 15 out of 399 — of cultural cities in Canada.

The Yukon also enjoys the highest per-capita funding for arts and culture at $400 per person, said Taylor.

This year, that number is set to increase.

The government has put an additional $567,500 in the Yukon’s arts budget, bringing its sum to $2.6 million, from $2 million.

Taylor’s announcement was met with hoots, whistles and a standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 40 artists, musicians and writers gathered in the downstairs gallery.

“I should have announced this before the election,” quipped Taylor.

“It feels like we’ve finally been listened to,” said Guild Hall and Yukon Arts Centre artistic director Eric Epstein.

“This is amazing — it’s a huge gift to the arts community and it deals with a lot of the concerns that have been voiced for a while now.

“There have been repeat users of the arts fund that really should be getting money for operating funding — this will address that in a good way.”

The arts community has been fighting for the hikes for years.

“I think it’s brilliant and we’re known as a place with awesome support for the arts — this is only pushing home that point,” said Moira Sauer, co-director of Sour Brides Theatre.

“A huge thanks to all those people who have been banging on those doors for so long.”

It will take a few months to “digest” the new funding and develop application criteria, said Yukon arts branch director Laurel Parry.

It’s too early to set a date, but Parry expects at least some of the money to begin flowing before April 2008.

The largest increase will be in funding to the Artists in the Schools Program. Its budget will quadruple to $100,000 from $25,000.

The Yukon Arts Funding Program, which provides organizations with their operational funding, will increase $242,500 — to $667,500.

The Dawson City Arts Society will get an extra $150,000, to take its annual funding to $400,000.

And there is now an additional $100,000 for touring works outside the territory.

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