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Funding cuts threaten Granville Island's Crafthouse

Jo Darts spends hours at Granville Island’s Crafthouse wrapping fragile artwork, piecing together bits of cardboard, tape and shredded paper to build…

By Yvonne Robertson , in Culture , on December 2, 2009 Tags: , , ,

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Jo Darts spends hours at Granville Island’s Crafthouse wrapping fragile artwork, piecing together bits of cardboard, tape and shredded paper to build a large box.

A few months ago this task was reserved for a separate staff with proper material, and she attended to working with artists, inventorying artwork and rearranging the gallery.

Darts is also working for a reduced salary because turning her back on the Crafthouse was not an option. At the gallery, she devotes herself to promoting craft and creativity.

“If you start killing creativity in people, then you start appealing to the lowest common denominator,” said Darts.

“If you lose your creativity or the means to do it, what are you going to do? Is everyone going to end up like little zombies sitting behind machines?”

Tough decisions

When the provincial government cut nearly half of the funding for the arts sector, the staff of the Crafthouse sacrificed its pay and volunteered part-time. Keeping the business open was more important than full-time pay and the artists depended on it.

This Granville Island gallery lost all its gaming funds during the provincial government’s recent funding cuts, after receiving $30,000 annually for the past 16 years.

The company had already begun spending its yearly budget. These cuts resulted in a staggering debt.

“The economic crisis has forced governments to make tough decisions,” said Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Kevin Krueger. “We had to provide services that are critical for British Columbians such as health care and education.”

Darts said that closing down the Crafthouse means that approximately 125 artists who showcase their work there would lose a venue to sell their pieces.

“There are lots of different repercussions,” said Darts. “It’s like a domino effect.”

Few places like the Crafthouse exist in Vancouver. The gallery emphasizes handmade, three-dimensional craft, such as sculpture, unlike paintings or photographs in other galleries.

“We want to elevate the perception of craft to something equivalent to any other work of art out there,” said Bonnie-Jean Gale, another part-time volunteer.

Like Darts, Gale went from full-time employee to part-time volunteer at the Crafthouse. They both believe in the importance of educating the public about craft art. To them, cutting back their pay outweighed cutting back the hours of operation.

A staple of the island

The staff constantly rearranges the pieces to maintain a fresh look.
The staff constantly rearranges the pieces to maintain a fresh look.

Warm lighting, glazed pottery and brightly coloured ornaments entice people into the Crafthouse. Inside customers tend to run their hands along a sea of one-of-a-kind pieces that include knitted textiles and smooth wood designs.

Once people accidentally stumble across the gallery with the red awning, they keep going back.

School groups pass through its open door to learn about techniques such as still life drawing or sculpture making. They get the chance to learn about art forms they may not have otherwise.

“It’s been helpful for us and gives us exposure,” said Ron Lotan. He manages the sales of his wife, Lilach, who exhibits at the gallery.

The Lotans used to exhibit at other galleries on the island, but decided to sell solely at the Crafthouse. They were the most successful there. Other artists said the gallery also gives them exposure and keeps them connected to the craft community.

“It certainly maintains a standard,” said Tina Farmilo, a customer at the gallery. “It’s not your usual run-of-the-mill work. If you’re looking for well-crafted work, you come here.”

Cultural history

The provincial government’s decision to cut arts funding sparked anger and protests at the lack of laws or protection for the region’s culture.

On the Alliance for Arts and Culture website, Jane Danzo of the British Columbia Arts Council wrote, “The arts community is looking for a more positive attitude and increased visible support from the government.”

Arts organizations like the Crafthouse bear the brunt of the cuts on Granville Island, indirectly affecting independent artists as well.

“There are so many seasons that are getting cancelled,” said Gaelan Beatty, a performer. “So many theatre companies that are potential employers for me are going under. I understand that the cuts have to come somewhere, but I just don’t agree with cutting one whole section of society.”

The British Columbia Arts Council strives to create an understanding about the value of art, according to the minutes of it’s last meeting on Nov. 16. They want to advocate for the arts sector on the community level instead of relying on the government.

Darts said people underestimate the value of art and what they can learn from it. The staff believes in its gallery and takes action to keep it open.

“Somebody once said that today’s craft is tomorrow’s heirloom or archeological find where you’ll see what previous cultures have made,” said Darts.