The Red Deer Symphony Orchestra is one of the local groups affected by changes to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts’ grant distribution. (Advocate file photo).

Provincial grant changes have Red Deer arts groups worried

Funding uncertainty is looming over the Red Deer Symphony, the Red Deer Arts Council and other culture groups as the Alberta Foundation for the Arts prepares for possible provincial budget cuts.

Instead of giving out operating grants on a yearly basis, the foundation will be doling out money quarterly as a pre-emptive measure in anticipation of the United Conservative government’s fall budget.

Not knowing how much grant money will be coming in for the rest of the 2019-20 season “is a big deal,” says the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Chandra Kastern.

She explained the orchestra is in the final leg of a three-year funding cycle with the foundation. The group had been receiving $55,000 annually — which covers about 10 per cent of its overall budget.

The full grant amount used to arrive in June, allowing the orchestra to plan with a stabilized cash flow.

But while the new season is already set, Kastern was notified that only a quarter of the grant is arriving, with other installments to be sent in the fall, winter and spring.

Kastern worries that if the government cuts arts funding in the fall budget, the foundation allotments will also be reduced.

“The funding is never a guarantee — and if there’s no money, then there’s no money,” she said.

While the orchestra doesn’t spend much during the summer, the new concert season starts in the fall, along with school programs such as Choir Kids.

Kastern hopes her group will not have to “scramble” to do additional cost cutting or fundraising during a time when non-profits are already struggling to get corporate sponsorships.

“Our staffing is already at a minimum, and nobody’s received any raises for the last five years…”

Suzanne Hermary, co-ordinator of the Red Deer Arts Council, is also concerned about how the funding distribution changes made by the foundation will impact her organization.

She said it would be nice to be assured that the funding that was planned and budgeted for will come through.

Among the big question marks is how much money will be received for Red Deer’s Culture Days celebration in September.

Hermary noted the grant application was due in April, and notification was supposed to be in May, but so far, she has heard nothing.

She’s starting to consider some small-scale plans, saying there still will be some celebration.

As arts groups wait to see what the provincial budget will bring, municipalities, including Red Deer and Calgary, have been topping up the funding they make available to these groups.

Earlier this year, Red Deer city council added 33 per cent more money to an existing $400,000 municipal pot for arts and culture. The $30,000 cap for each arts grant was also lifted.

Former city manager Craig Curtis said this was in recognition of the hard economy and difficulty many arts groups were having fundraising in a competitive climate to try to remain sustainable.

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