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Freeze on grants sparks anxiety among Whistler non-profits

Redirecting gaming money would have large impact on arts, sports and social services



The provincial government's Direct Access grant freeze is hitting home, leaving many Whistler community groups anxious about their financial future.

Among those waiting in limbo for an update from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development is Jehanne Burns from Whistler Museum and Archives, who has already written to MLA Joan McIntyre with her concerns.

"This funds literally all of the museum's programs," said an impassioned Burns after finding out last week the grant program was on hold. "It puts everything in jeopardy."

If the museum doesn't receive the grant, she said, even buying ink for their printer and paying staff wages will be a challenge.

To add to Burns's woes, the museum was planning to have a special Olympic program ready for February when the world arrives on Whistler's doorstep for the Winter Games. But without the Direct Access grant, the museum's Olympic plans could also be on the chopping block.

Last year, the museum received $40,000 from the Direct Access program.

The program provides up to $100,000 in funds to local non-profit organizations, or up to $250,000 to province-wide non-profits annually. The funds come from the province's gambling and lottery revenue.

According to the ministry's website, total gaming revenues for fiscal 2008-09 were approximately $2.61 billion. After expenses, government revenues were about $1.09 billion. Slightly more than $156 million was allocated to non-profit organizations. But the freeze and review of gaming grants has left organizations across the province wondering what's going to happen to their budgets.

"I don't know what it will mean for the museum, and that is what is so scary," said Burns. "We really don't ever have any money for anything extra or new. We are just trying desperately to maintain, which is a struggle, let alone progress.

"We obviously get a grant from the Resort Municipality of Whistler to help fund our operations, but it is not enough to fund our whole staff and all our expenditures. Running a museum is really expensive just for the back of house work, let alone anything that the public sees."

Burns isn't the only one feeling the pinch from the temporarily suspended grant program.

About a dozen Whistler community groups focused on arts, sports, education or social services have received grants from the provincial program over the past few years. More than $300,000 was doled out in Whistler during the provincial government's last fiscal year.

Local groups impacted include the Whistler Arts Council (WAC), Whistler Mountain Ski Club, Whistler Search and Rescue (SAR), Whistler Gymnastics Club, Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) and Whistler Children's Centre Society.

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