Some well-established local arts organizations say they have been denied funding due to typos and administrative errors, and in at least one case, it will result in the loss of a job.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador against ArtsNL and the minister of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation, asking for payment of the $44,000 it was denied from ArtsNL’s Sustaining Program for Professional Arts Organizations.
A Crown agency, ArtsNL develops and administers grant programs for professional artists, arts organizations, schools and community groups.
Court documents state the society was awarded a grant in 2017 for $22,000 a year for three years, with the requirement that the organization submit reports for 2018 and 2019 to ensure it remained eligible for the funding.
The society says it submitted its report by the Feb. 1 deadline, but a supporting document didn’t arrive until the next day, due to a courier oversight. ArtsNL staff seemed to be satisfied when the society provided them with a courier receipt as proof, the documents state.
Four days later, ArtsNL contacted the Folk Arts Society to say it would not receive its grant for 2018 or 2019, and it would have to wait until 2020 to reapply.
With a mandate to promote and preserve the traditional arts of the province, the society is a St. John’s-based charitable organization behind events such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, Folk Night at The Ship and Young Folk at the Hall.
The statement of claim says the province has provided funding to the Folk Arts Society since it was established in 1966, and ArtsNL (previously the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council) has been a financial supporter since 1980.
On a number of occasions in the past, ArtsNL had allowed the society to submit supporting documents or clarifications after the Feb. 1 deadline without any issues, the document says, giving specific examples.
John Drover, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society, told The Telegram the grant money had been factored into the organization’s yearly budget after it was awarded last year, and would normally go toward rent, bills and payment of staff.
The society contacted the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation to plead its case, but the government refused to get involved, Drover said.
“This has happened to a number of organizations,” Drover said of the funding denial. “I know of at least four or five off hand.”
Wreckhouse Jazz and Blues is another long-standing arts organization that was reportedly denied funding by ArtsNL this year. President Bradley Power says its mistake was a typo on the part of a grant application showing financials. One line showed a surplus of $14,000 instead of a deficit of that amount, even though the tally at the bottom of the page included the correct deficit.
“They told us a week and a half later, ‘We’ve reviewed your proposal and we’re turning you down because your numbers don’t add up,” Power said, adding he was told it stemmed from a government policy.
Wreckhouse Jazz and Blues — a non-profit organization that produces the annual Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival as well as year-round concerts and educational events — had been asking for a $10,000 grant to hire a festival co-ordinator, Power said.
“We will not be hiring a co-ordinator now. We can’t,” Power said. “It will also likely mean we’ll be having a very small festival, if at all.
“These amounts of money, while they might seem small to some, are huge to small arts organizations. This is not the private sector, we’re talking about volunteer-run organizations. ArtsNL does a lot of great work, but when staff members don’t have any discretion in these situations … we just feel this is a heavy-handed position. I understand the importance of being transparent and accountable, but it doesn’t have to be this strict.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation responded to an email from The Telegram for comment, stating, “As ArtsNL is a Crown entity, please contact them directly for response.”
A spokesman for ArtsNL said the organization is unable to comment on legal matters. He also declined to comment on the cases of Wreckhouse Jazz and Blues and other organizations not part of the lawsuit.
Drover hopes the case won’t make it to court.
“My hope is that someone up in government comes to their senses and cuts us a cheque, and then cuts a cheque to the other organizations that were denied funding for the same reason. Then I think there should be a review of ArtsNL. I’d like to see government get artists and arts organizations together for their input.”