April 18th, 2024

NDP arts and culture critic gains local insights

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on February 23, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

Arts and Culture critic for the Alberta NDP and MLA for Calgary-Buffalo, Joe Ceci visited Lethbridge this week to speak with stakeholders and members of the community that are part of the arts and culture.
Ceci was in Lethbridge Wednesday and before leaving on Thursday morning he spoke exclusively to the Herald about his visit and what he learned from those who attended his roundtable conversations and mixer.
“The things that I’ll take back from this engagement is that people would like to see more money in the Alberta Foundation for Arts (AFA), people would like to see more support regionally for Lethbridge and southern Alberta, feeling that they’re getting left out,” said Ceci.
 He said those in the arts and culture world expressed how they feel like Edmonton and Calgary kind of “take all the oxygen out of the room.”
Ceci said he also heard about the desire for a performing arts centre being built in Lethbridge because it could spur all sorts of economic development locally.
 “People mentioned at the roundtable that the UCP government sees arts funding as it doesn’t do anything for us, as a ‘its a nice to have’ but the folks were saying it’s an investment and it really spurs other kinds of economic development,” said Ceci.
 He said a more vibrant supported arts community would spur hotel space development, or it would help other businesses perform better.
And tourism would increase as a result but the government doesn’t see it that way, said Ceci.
 “This budget I think is just going to be more of the same where the government promised lots of things but they’re not going to deliver,” said Ceci.
Ceci said he had the opportunity to meet two local musicians who shared their experiences as artists in Lethbridge and some of the struggles they have faced.
“I met with John Wort Hannam and Dave McCann, and they were telling me what it was like to be an artist, a musician, and how they really have to struggle to kind of put together careers and what they’d like to see from the government,” said Ceci.
“They were saying it would be really helpful if the government had transportation support for artists, so that Alberta music could be taken elsewhere.”
 He said they also mentioned the issues they have when applying for an AFA grant, as the money received does not reach the artist after paying the fees associated with recording and other costs, and at the end the artists make no money, other than what they are able to generate from merchandise sales during their shows.
 “That’s a grant that the UCP government has reduced drastically, by 25 per cent, from their time in 2019 to now, and they haven’t increased it. To our credit we kept the same, but we should have increased it,” said Ceci.
 He said people have been calling for an increase to that grant for a long time and part of his platform in May was to increase it by 50 per cent.  
“It’s about $25 million now and we were going to increase it to $37 or $40 million,” said Ceci.
He said during his visit, he also had the opportunity to tour the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Casa and attended the latest New West Theatre production “Legends of Rock and Country” at the Yates Memorial Theatre Wednesday night.
Ceci said the information he gathered during his visit will help him question the Minister of Arts and Culture during legislative sessions and also create member statements, that gives him the opportunity to talk about where he has been and what he has seen.
“And then there’s this process called estimates after budget, so when the minister presents her budget for arts and culture and status of women in this case, I’ll be able to question her about the priorities she’s placing on that investment,” said Ceci.
“And knowing what people in Lethbridge think now, I’ll be able to kind of shape some of my questions specifically around how does this program that you’re proposing address the needs of the folks in Lethbridge.”

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