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J.P. Ellson, CEO of Creative Sask, said his trip to Los Angeles during Oscar week was partially focused on the fine arts. Photo by Kendall Latimer.

Creative Sask, Saskatchewan’s new arts funding agency, is drawing criticism following the CEO’s recent trip to Los Angeles during Oscar week.

 

The excursion, which was approved by the agency’s board of directors, cost $3,600 of taxpayers’ money.

 

The NDP culture critic Cathy Sproule deemed the trip hypocritical because the film industry has suffered since the provincial government ended Saskatchewan’s film tax credit program in 2012.

 

Sproule also said the trip shouldn’t have been approved in light of Premier Brad Wall’s ban on non-essential travel that was put into place in December. The government allows agency boards to decide for themselves what is considered essential.

 

“What is essential to one organization may have a completely different meaning to a different organization,” said J.P. Ellson, Creative Sask CEO. “Our mandate is to increase exposure of our artists on a national and international basis. To do that we have to go outside of the province. The world doesn’t know that much about (our artists) so we have to tell them.”

 

On Feb. 24, Michael MacNaughton, Creative Sask board chair, told Global News that Ellson’s trip was essential to promote the province’s film industry. MacNaughton said that as the entire film and television industry was in Los Angeles it was the time they needed to go down there and meet with them.

 

However, the next day Ellson told INK the trip wasn’t motivated by Saskatchewan’s film industry. Rather, he said Creative Sask tries to focus on more than one section of arts, as the agency represents all art forms.

 

“The trip’s main focus was twofold. One was to meet with the new Consul General for L.A.,” said Ellson. “Secondly, most of it was based on the fine arts side.”

 

Ellson said he spent a full day with a potential event planner touring different art districts of L.A., looking for places where Saskatchewan art exhibitions could go. “We’ve identified L.A. as a potential art market, so it was a matter of going down and seeing these different areas, regions, and galleries.”

 

Despite reports in the media, Ellson denies attending any Oscar after parties. “I was back in my office by Friday afternoon,” he said.

 

“On the evening of the last day I was invited by the Canadian Media Fund and Telefilm Canada, the two largest funders of film development and production, to attend their reception, which was free, so I didn’t buy a ticket. It was to honour the nominees, not just for the Academy Awards but also the Canadian Screen Awards,” said Ellson.

 

“All galleries are looking at expanding their markets, whether it’s provincially, nationally, or internationally. If (the trip) assists galleries expanding on an international basis it’s certainly a great thing,” said Jeremy Weimer, owner of the Assiniboia Gallery which is a member of Sask Galleries.

 

Ellson said trips like these are about exposure, not direct sales, and that measuring the success of them is not easy. “We can certainly measure outputs. Outcome is a different issue. It’s often slow, an 18 to 36 month incubation period before you see any real return," he said.