03/13/2015 10:07 EDT | Updated 05/13/2015 05:59 EDT

Loto-Québec suspends visual arts purchases

Loto-Québec’s decision to suspend its art acquisition budget this year is being met with consternation and indignation in Montreal’s art scene.

For the past 35 years, the provincial agency that runs casinos and lotteries has invested some of its earnings in culture, including a program to purchase works of art for its own collection.

The collection currently holds almost 5,000 works.

In previous years, the agency has spent about $350,000 a year on art, either in direct purchases to artists or by helping museums such as the Musée d’art contemporain and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts purchase works.

Now, the program is on hold for at least a year, according to the spokesperson for the collection, Marie-Claude Rivet.

"Revenues are more difficult to gain in the past few years so we have to reexamine everything that we do so we try to do so the collection is part of it," she said.

Profits at the agency have dropped by 5 per cent this year with a drop in the popularity of the slot machines and the purchase of lottery tickets.

The $350,000 represents a small part of Loto-Québec’s budget, approximately 0.01 per cent. 

Rivet said "it may not seem like such a big envelope of money, but there are no small envelopes of money in these times."

Impact on artists

Purchases by Loto-Québec have been an important source of income for Quebec artists.

Photographer Alain Paiement sold three of his Moon Series photographs to the Musée d’art contemporain in a purchase paid for by Loto-Québec last year.

He said the money from that sale "allows me to keep going and printing other work, It covers all the rent of the year so it is significant of course."  

Paul Andrew Hardy, 32-year-old print maker, said Loto-Québec's purchase of three of his prints had a ripple effect on other buyers because it happened shortly after the weekend event opening.

"They are considered purchases, so it reassures others that these are artists that are worth paying attention to," he said.  

Landry is concerned not only about the income for artists, but also what the decision means about the corporate responsibility of Loto-Québec.

"It's extremely disappointing," Landry said. 

"A company like Loto-Québec makes their money off people who are not in best financial situations so I personally have some moral issues with them not giving back."

Loto-Québec and museums

Institutions such as the Montreal Musée d'art contemporain do have a standing agreement with Loto-Québec through 2015-16, which the agency has said it will honour.

The lottery corporation will also continue to maintain and circulate its collection, as it has done in the past through loans to museums and exhibitions in the Maisons de la culture.

But news that all of the spending at the lottery corporation is under review is unsettling for observers of the visual arts scene like Victoria LeBlanc, director of the Visual Arts Centre in Westmount.

As the head of an arts school that employs working artists and the curator of a gallery which sells Canadian artists, she is all too aware of the impact of Loto-Québec’s role for the artistic community and particularly for emerging artists.

“It's kind of like a wound to the system and it spreads throughout. In austerity arts are always the first to be cut," LeBlanc said. 

"We have one institution doing it and then there will be another institution doing it. It's very difficult to accept.”