A new $100 million three-year fund announced this week for arts, culture and sports is timely and welcome, says the executive director of the Association of Manitoba Museums — but it doesn’t solve a problem many museums have with finding money to continue their operations.
Premier Heather Stefanson took to the Bourkevale Community Center soccer field on Monday afternoon to officially launch the new community fund, which will offer $34 million in the first of its three years to provide grants to organizations for large capital projects.
“We need to make sure that we increase the funding and the capital funding for those projects, so that they can be there for not just next year or the year after, but really for decades and generations to come,” she said.
In addition to major capital projects, the fund will offer money to arts, cultural and sports organizations for community celebrations as well as small capital projects and other special initiatives, the province said earlier this week.
“It’s very exciting,” said Thomas McLeod, executive director of the Association of Manitoba Museums. The capital funding could prove to be especially timely for museums taking on bigger capital projects, like the Canadian Fossil Discovery Center in Morden, he said.
“This [provincial] government has done extremely well,” with some types of funding, McLeod said, pointing to endowment funds worth $1.4 million each for seven Manitoba museums announced in 2020.
But museums would like to see more programs geared towards funding their operations, he said — something many struggle with, especially after the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums are so grateful to be open again and to see the public,” after pandemic restrictions forced them to close, McLeod told CBC’s Weekend Morning Show guest host Bryce Hoye on Saturday.
But “sustainable operational funds … in the heritage sector are really something that still needs to be addressed.”
The Weekend Morning Show (Manitoba)8:16 a.mNew provincial funding welcome news for Manitoba’s museums
Funding is available through the provincial Community Museum Grants Program, he said, but some community museums get small amounts through that.
“In one way, a small museum is very grateful for any support they get,” he said, and a $2,000 or $3,000 grant may go a long way for a volunteer-run community organization.
But “when you look at the realities of what it costs to heat a place or keep a place operating, $3,000 doesn’t necessarily go that far,” he said.
He’s heard positive reports about an uptick in visits to Manitoba museums recently, but customer traffic is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels.
“Like the tourism industry, I think it’s going to take a little more time.”
Community groups can apply for new funds
Last month, McLeod and Gordon Goldsborough, the president of the Manitoba Historical Society, told CBC News that the government had not increased funding for the eight heritage agencies that serve the province — including their agencies — for nearly 20 years.
“We’re getting less than we used to get, at the same time as we’re being asked to do as much or more than we used to do,” Goldsborough said in the June interview.
Both looked to Manitoba’s western neighbor for ways to better help archives, museums and heritage organizations thrive.
Proceeds from Saskatchewan Lotteries — the provincial marketing organization for lottery tickets — support culture and heritage initiatives in that province like museums, archeology, archives, local heritage parks and associations.
Those agencies in Saskatchewan get eight to 10 times the money than their Manitoba counterparts, McLeod said in June, and he hopes the province will return to the idea of setting up endowments for local heritage organizations.
During Monday’s announcement about the new fund, Premier Stefanson and Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Andrew Smith stressed that all community groups are eligible to apply for grants through the fund, with the first intake opening in August.
Stefanson said in her tours of the province, it is clear that many facilities are in dire need of repair.
“Rising costs are affecting all Manitobans,” she said at Monday’s news conference. “This fund will help organizations continue to provide affordable sport, culture and heritage opportunities across the province.”
The deadline to apply to the fund is Aug. 16