The Smithers Gallery Association is asking the Town of Smithers and Regional District of Bulkley Nechako to significantly increase public funding to avoid making serious cuts

Smithers Art Gallery in financial trouble

A delegation told Smithers council Thursday that without a cash infusion, major changes would have to be made at the gallery.

A Smithers Gallery Association delegation at a council of the whole meeting Thursday made it clear that if it does not get a cash infusion, major changes to programming would have to be made at the gallery.

The meeting was called to hear grant-in-aid requests from the gallery, museum, library, Northern Society for Domestic Peace and Smithers RCMP victim services, and the Bulkley Valley Community Arts Council. Town councillors will consider the requests during budget discussions on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2.

The Gallery Association is asking for an increase in Town and Regional District of Bulkley Nechako funding to $32,000.

“The size of the deficit this year, combined with what we see coming next year and following, convinces us that we’re at a point where we are either going to find us some more money to support our operations, or we’re going to have to redsign what we do and, more or less, go back to the drawing board,” Association treasurer Allan Edie told council.

“The kind of money that we would have to come up with is, I think without question, going to require a major overhaul of how we do business.”

He described a “double whammy” that forced the association to use up most of its reserves of a cancelled fundraiser due to scheduling issues with an artist, and another fundraiser not showing up in its financials because of timing.

Edie said simply deleting programs would not save much money, and that the only major expense the Association can control is manager hours.

“We really can’t predict what we would end up with after going through that process,” said Edie.

Fundraisers and expenses are highly unpredictable, which means the gallery needs consistent government aid, according to the delegation. This would not be a one-time cash infusion if the Association gets its way.

Without a funding boost from local government, Edie said the gallery would have a $10,000 deficit before changes.

“I would ask you to please judge our request on the merits of our delivery of services to the Smithers community, not on the ratio of our current request to funds that were made in the past,” Edie told council.

He said the heightened quality of programming at the gallery, with a lot of credit given to manager Caroline Bastable, is why expenses have climbed.

“The program has been evolving over time and the crossing lines of expenses going up, and variable costs have left us where we are not from a result of mismanagement but just from the highly variable nature of our costs and expenses,” said Edie.

“What it does is forces us with a wake-up call that if we want to continue doing stuff that we’ve accomplished up until now, we have to get more funding or we’re going to have to back-up.”

The Association plans on creating a fundraiser position. Its 2015-2019 strategic plan has two projected budgets: an “optimistic” one with expenses totalling $428,000, and a “conservative” one with expenses of $376,000.

“So if the community like the gallery that they’re experiencing today, then that requires additional resources to support it in the future,” summed up Mayor Taylor Bachrach.

Coun. Phil Brienesse pointed out that this is not the first time the gallery has come to the a Town with a significant increase to its grant request, but gave some other numbers comparing gallery funding to other local institutions.

“The library we fund to 73 per cent, the museum we fund 63 per cent of their total, the art gallery we fund 17 per cent of their total,” explained Brienesse.

The museum is asking for $71,000, the library wants $307,000, victim services $1,000, and BV Arts Council $4,000.