Israel's leading cultural institutes warned Tuesday that contrary to regulations, the Culture Ministry has still not notified them of their levels of financial support in 2019, leaving them "in budgetary distress" that "harms the public the ministry is meant to serve."
The Israel Culture and Arts Forum, which represents 105 institutions from all cultural fields – orchestras, theaters, dance troupes, film foundations and various arts schools – blamed Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev for the foot-dragging, saying in a letter sent to Regev that the delay “raises a serious concern that the ministry has a deliberate policy to harm the cultural world.”
In the letter, the institutions wrote that "current conduct is a gross violation of the finance minister’s regulations," since without knowing their financing they are "having a hard time functioning," adding that “previous repeated requests from the Israel Culture and Arts Forum and the artists’ unions haven’t helped.”
The letter further claimed that while the cultural institutions supported by the ministry had not received their budgets, sports institutions had gotten funding: “We are learning that it could be different. The Sports Administration has approved funding for 1,000 sports associations and 70 sports unions.”
According to the Finance Ministry procedure, all supported institutions must submit requests for support to various government ministries by December. In January, the requests are discussed by the relevant ministries and by early March the institutions are meant to be notified of how much funding they’ll receive. Immediately after that, the support money is normally paid in a few installments. For several years, however, the Culture Ministry has not met this timetable and cultural institutions have been notified of their budget with considerable delays. According to Forum chairman Itamar Gurevich, in 2018 dozens of institutions received their budget notice only in December.
To resolve the problem, the Forum reached an agreement with the government under which the activities of cultural institutions will be examined a year in advance, to give the Culture Ministry enough time to calculate the subsidies. Despite this, only the dance troupes have gotten their funding notices.
“When a cultural institution prepares a work plan that it submits to the Culture Ministry, it starts working according to it. When the ministry informs it of the level of support, it’s supposed to update the plan according to the budget set,” Gurevich explains. “But if such a notice does not arrive, and in the end it receives a lower budget than planned, it may find itself at the end of the year with a budget deficit.”
Gurevich adds that he had written to Culture Minister Director General Yossi Sharabi a month ago about the issue but hasn’t yet received a reply. “We were surprised to discover that in the field of sports, for which funds were transferred to the ministry for distribution, this problem does not exist,” Gurevich says. “This, even though the ministry pays around 600 cultural institutions, compared to 1,000 sports institutions, or 60 percent more. This is proof that the ministry can do it, so what is happening here? Is the delay of funds for culture intentional?”
The Culture and Sports Ministry said in response: “The Culture and Sports Ministry is working to expedite the subsidy process according to the requirements of the Justice Ministry and the professional needs of the various cultural bodies. Over the past three years there has been a real revolution in regularizing most of the areas supported by the ministry. In this spirit, equal support mechanisms have been arranged and/or amended in more than twenty areas supported by the ministry. Any claim of tendentiousness of any kind is baseless and divorced from reality. Cultural bodies are in daily contact with the Culture Administration and are aware that it addresses needs that emerge from the field, and that many of the adjustments in the support mechanisms have been made to benefit the cultural bodies as well as to implement policy. In the near future annual funding notices will be received by the repertory theaters, theater groups, orchestras, heritage centers, archives and galleries as part of the process of expediting subsidies. This week, 30 percent of the support that was given last year was already transferred to most of the cultural bodies in all fields.”
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