Provincial government to eliminate funding to PEI Crafts Council
by Charles Mandel
Nancy Hunt expects less income from her crafts this year. The fabric artist, who lives on the Dixon Road, says recent news of government cuts to the PEI Craft Council is bound to have an impact on her bottom line.
Hunt is one of a number of artisans who have taken advantage of the provincial government’s winter financing loan program, designed to help craftspeople produce work over the lean winter months for the coming summer.
But now Hunt, who like many Island artisans sells her work through the council’s Victoria Row shop in Charlottetown, worries an additional five per cent consignment fee (which the council is considering adding to help offset its operating grant loss) could effect her ability to repay her loan.
Hunt says if the government is intent on treating Island artisans like business people, then it shouldn’t have suddenly cut the council’s budget. She points out the grant cut has had a direct effect on her business plan, throwing her figures for projected income out of whack. “They’ve taken away from the ability to make a good, sound decision for my business,” Hunt says.
“I’m very concerned about how this is going to play out.”
Hunt’s not alone with her worries. The news of the reduced funding to the council has thrown PEI’s craft industry in turmoil.
Because of provincial government funding cuts, Prince Edward Island may become the only Canadian province without a craft council while a new state-of-the-art craft centre planned for the island is on hold.
In mid-March, PEI Business Development Inc. turned down the PEI Craft Council’s request for a $65,700 operating grant. Instead, the council received $20,000 along with a letter saying that the money is also the last grant PEIBDI will give the council.
Mike Currie, PEI’s Development and Technology Minister whose department administers PEIBDI, stated in a news release that the province plans to treat the Island’s craft industry as a business and to support it that way.
“Support for the craft industry will change to emphasize support for individual craft businesses and promotional opportunities for the craft industry,” the release stated.
Currently, PEIBDI provides support for the Buyer’s Market, which matches craft and giftware producers with retailers every spring; the Studio Tour, which attracts visitors to craft shops and studios in the fall; and gives assistance to artisans to travel to Halifax’s annual Atlantic Craft Trade Show.
Barb Boss, the council’s executive director, says the council is the industry’s framework. She says artisans rely on the council for marketing, research and development and advice on technical skills. “We’re really the first stop when folks are thinking about a career in craft. Without the council, both the level and quantity of quality crafts will decline.”
The shortfall in funding means the council has already slashed staff and programs. An administrative assistant has been lot go and the remaining full-time staff are taking a five per cent wage cut and losing the council’s pension contribution. As well, paid sick days have been reduced and the council eliminated its newsletter.
More crucially, says Boss, in a matter of months the council may have to shut down if it’s not able to access funding.
Also on hold are plans for a new craft centre, which would cost slightly more than a million dollars. With the assistance of ACOA, the council had prepared a business plan, proposing the centre. The centre would act like an incubator for newly graduated students, allowing them to work on the Island and build up a body of crafts before going out on their own. In addition to studio space, the centre would also include a library, room for an artist-in-residence, a gallery and meeting rooms.
While the council’s store grossed $252,000 in 2004/05, the shop operates on a separate budget from the council and, in fact, the store’s gross take is down from $302,000 the previous fiscal year and $371,000 the year before that.
Although the shop has transferred money to the council previously, not a lot is left once the store pays out consignment fees to the some 100 artisans who sell their work through the outlet. As well, the remainder of the money goes to wages, building rent, heat, lights, phone, supplies and other overhead.
Established in 1965, the council currently represent some 300 artisans. The province says about 1,000 full-and-part-time craftspeople operate on the island, however, Boss disputes that number. She says the government lumps giftware manufacturers in with craft artists while the two types of producers are very different.
Giftware tends to be more commercial and mass-produced, while hand-crafted work requires more specialized training and technical and design skills, Boss says. She characterizes giftware as items such as “mass-produced dog biscuits and potato chips with lobsters on the front, and adds, “all of those things have their place, but it’s not what the craft council is all about.”
Christine Stanley, a fibre artist who with her husband runs Stanley Pottery and Weaving in Breadalbane, says artisans choose a lifestyle of making one-of-a-kind items for the public.
“When you choose the lifestyle of a craftsman, you choose a different sort of lifestyle without security,” Stanley says. “We don’t get welfare. We don’t get EI. We don’t have workman’s compensation.”
She points out that given the amount of money crafts pour into the provincial economy—the government estimates the industry is worth $20-million annually—the council is asking for a small amount of money for support.
Stanley notes that the province wants to treat the council like a business, but “the first thing everybody said was, ‘What about the money they put down the tubes in Polar Foods?’”
The province lost $31 million backing Polar with loan guarantees.
For her part, Boss points out the other Atlantic provincial craft councils all receive some funding support from their provincial governments. Nova Scotia, for instance, accesses a $61,000 operating grant as well as an additional $70,000 for project funding and a further $15,000 for rental and equipment rental costs.
Back on the Dixon Road, Nancy Hunt says she’s concerned the province’s plans to treat artisans like a business. "They're not all businesses in the normal sense. It's kind of a different thing. Most of us work at home,'' she says, adding: “It's very important we have this craft council functioning fully.”