Cuts in funding forces creativity and resourcefulness
Even though Calgary’s artistic community has seen significant cuts to their budgets, Dennis Cahill, artistic director at the Loose Moose Theatre Company, is optimistic that the city will continue to welcome and support arts.
“In general, people want to have the arts here. So I’m hoping it doesn’t get to the point where there’s no support and no means of producing shows,” says Cahill, who has been with the company since it was established in 1977.
According to the Alberta Culture Ministry, there has been a $16.5 million decrease in federal grants for arts between 2012 and 2013. The Calgary Herald reported the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts lost a $420,000 provincial operating grant, which will take effect in April.
Cahill says he agrees that funding for the arts is the easiest thing for governments to cut because they are hard to see as part of the economy and there are voters who really don’t believe in funding the arts.
Cahill declined to release specific information about the theatre company’s budget, but says that over the 36 years that the theatre has been open, they have experienced ups and downs and always adjust their budget accordingly.
One significant change Cahill says he’s noticed is the amount of provincial funding is not on par with the organizations sprouting out of Calgary. The actual amount of funding has not grown enough to reasonably support all of the organizations, he says.
“The pie is not getting much bigger, but the people who want a piece of it are constantly growing,” Cahill says.
Volunteers running the show
The Loose Moose Theatre Company has survived in Calgary for 36 years thanks to a healthy balance of a strong audience and committed volunteers.
According to Cahill, the theatre company has no problems finding actors, sound technicians, or someone to run the box office. He says he believes the Loose Moose Theatre Company attributes a lot of their success to their volunteers.
Those who volunteer their time with the company are also offered training. This exchange, Cahill says, has produced some of the group’s best performers.
Andrew Phung has been an actor with Loose Moose for 13 years. Phung says he is proud to be associated with a company that has allowed him to flourish. He was recently named best local actor by FFWD Weekly and was nominated as one of Calgary’s Top 40 under-40 by Avenue Magazine in 2009.
Phung’s says a smaller budget does not necessarily have a negative impact because it helps the theatre company to be more resourceful and learn to produce performances based on creativity.
“Improvisation isn’t a big budget art form, but we’re able to deliver quality content each night,” Phung says in an email. “Our kid shows are creative and engaging because of the people, not the special effects.”
Money isn’t everything
The company also does not have a budget for massive advertising campaigns. Instead, Cahill says the company finds that word-of-mouth is its main source of advertisement and social media promotes awareness of shows.
“The pie is not getting much bigger, but the people who want a piece of it are constantly growing,”
– Dennis Cahill.
Additional funding to the theatre company would allow it to expand, offer more paid positions and do larger budget productions.
But, in the entertainment industry, riches don’t rain down overnight.
“Even the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts can run into financial difficulties,” Cahill says.
The Loose Moose Theatre Company has its own space for performances, currently performing on the second floor at the Crossroads Market.
Cahill says this is important because their own space gives the group more room to grow as a company. Space for a theatre is harder to find because they are looking for significant space for both the actors and audience.
Calgary Arts Development, an organization that helping artists and art organizations find locations in the city, currently, has communications groups that visit open houses that may appeal to a variety of artists for rehearsal space, a gallery or even bigger productions. Through purchasing building, short or long-term leases, and even different groups sharing the same space, art organizations find space one way or another.
Joni Carroll, co-ordinator for Calgary Arts Development, says artist-run centres are becoming more common. Artists rent space in a larger building, such as Evergreen Theatre in the Currie Barracks, which offers smaller studios for dance, theatre and offices.
“(Calgary artists) are people who really know how to get the most out of any space that they have. Every art space that we have in Calgary is operating fully at capacity,” Carroll says.
Cahill says Calgarians are supportive of the arts, even as the arts sector in Alberta experiences funding issues.
“Any culture or any city loses when they don’t have a strong cultural base,” Cahill says.