Tobique blues artists calls the New Brunswick government’s decision to get rid of the independent arts board “heartbreaking”

(Blues guitarist Gary Sappier says he’ll try to keep art NB independent from government)

Trina Roache
APTN National News
TOBIQUE FIRST NATION – A blues guitarist from the Tobique First Nation says the New Brunswick government’s decision to end the work of a program that funds artists “heartbreaking.”

Gary Sappier said he worked with Arts NB to help up and coming artists find money and opportunities vital to an arts career.

The Liberal Government in New Brunswick will take over the work of the board, cutting $400,000 in administration costs by laying off staff.

Arts NB found out about the move Feb. 3.

The board came into existence in 1989 so the province would have an arms length, non-political entity to hand out taxpayer dollars to artists in the province.

“I’m more concerned about the governance side,” said Sappier. “What we were advocating for 25 years, and it was a national model, was to work at arm’s length from government, from bureaucrats who can give whoever they want the money. We’re judged by our own peers. We’re not bound by bureaucrats who nothing about the arts.”

Sappier said aboriginal artists have been served well by Arts NB.

“They hired an aboriginal outreach worker, an artist herself, doing outreach work to artists in Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities,” said Sappier. She engaged the communities. Helped with everything, from forms to what programs artists are eligible for. It will be sad to see it all go.”

Sappier has worn many hats in the music industry, from music producer to performing in his own Gary Sappier Blues Band.

arts NB2

He said establishing a career in the arts is a hard road. His main focus with Arts NB is to help artists find cash, navigate complicated grant forms, and career development.

Sappier points to successful New Brunswick bands like the award-winning City Natives as an example of how far aboriginal artists have come.

“In 2014, we had four ECMA artists right here from Tobique. Four groups from New Brunswick. City Natives, won big at the East Coast Music Awards,” said Sappier. “The headlines read; Tobique First Nation shines at ECMA’s. These guys are working very, very hard at their craft. They’ve stepped up to the challenge.”

But Aboriginal artists need support and Sappier said he is worried that will disappear if government takes over the arts board.

“It’s pretty hard, it’s an endless self-promotion. And you’re always doing it every day,” said Sappier. “Networking is one of the most important things you can do outside the province. The Arts board? We were doing that. That’s one of the things we’re going to miss.”

It’s not over yet.

New Brunswick Tourism, Culture and Heritage Minister, along with the Premier Brian Gallant, are expected to meet with the arts board next week.

Sappier plans to plead his case of why having a board at arm’s length from government is so important.

Phone calls to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage were not returned.

A press release issued earlier this month said the decision wouldn’t mean less money for artists.

Minister Bill Fraser said, “This will result in a more focused, streamlined approach to ensure that the maximum amount of funding reaches the artists in a cost-effective way while ensuring that the arm’s-length, peer assessment model remains intact.”

But in a post to the Arts NB site, the board chair wrote that he disagrees with the decision.

“The actions Minister Fraser is taking right now will wreck something that has been working for over 25 years through successive Liberal and Conservative governments,” said Pierre McGraw. “Does this government really want to be the regime that re-politicizes arts funding?”

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