Invest in Barrie: Restore Arts Funding

[Editor: In light of feedback received, this article has been edited for clarity and intent on 25 January.]

Dear Mayor and Councillors

My name is damian lopes. I am a published poet, aspiring novelist, and head of the Barrie Arts and Culture Council (barriearts.ca/blog/about/).

I am writing to respectfully request you reconsider the $50,000 cut to the Cultural Grant program proposed in the budget motion 13-G-019, Paragraph 1, l, passed on Monday 21 January.

Artists and arts organizations are well aware of the fiscal restraints and realities of today. Despite the general misperception, arts organizations – and many artists themselves – are businesses. As such, we too face challenges, just like other sectors of the economy, during downturns, and understand that belt tightening should be shared equitably.

Councillor Shipley remarked on Monday that he did not want to tell the Culture Department how to allocate their budget, yet his amendment was targeted. The amendment does not reduce cultural spending overall by $50,000, but rather slashes one specific program. A program, I would add, that invests in our community.

In Council’s discussion of Councillor Shipley’s amendment, there appears to be a fair bit of confusion. This gives the impression that Council did not have sufficient information to make an informed decision. I confirmed that Councillor Shipley did contact the Culture Department on Monday 21 January. But this again gives the impression that insufficient time was allowed to fully explore impacts, options or alternatives.

From appearances at least, this cut is not thoughtful, prudent restraint. Rather it seems to be an indiscriminate slash that reduces service to our community, without concern for its impact on our economy. And it is important to stress: this is a reduction in service.

Aware of the fiscal climate, the Culture Department did not ask for an increase in budget, not even to meet inflation. They are accepting less. The community has not lobbied for addition funds as Council made it clear in September during the Public Art Policy discussions that belts are tight.

A reduction in cultural spending, in whatever form it takes, casts aside numerous priorities of Council, including downtown revitalization, our Cultural Plan, and culture as an economic driver to attract investment and professionals, like doctors.

Our Cultural Plan calls on Council to invest in arts and culture, a significant and growing sector of our economy, with an amazing return on investment. The Plan seeks to nurture our homegrown talent, both individuals and organizations. The Cultural Grant program is designed to do just that. Cutting it now, just as we are realizing results, is shortsighted.

The City of Toronto this week ratified a budget that includes a $6 million increase in arts spending. Mayor Rob Ford, voted in on a platform of fiscal responsibility, said: “This budget includes $22.5 million over the next few years in new funding for the arts. This money should be used to make Toronto an even more attractive place to live and to invest and create jobs. It should also help engage young people across the City…”

By 2016, Toronto will increase its investment in the arts from $18 per person, to $25 per person. But they will still lag far behind Montreal, let alone Philadelphia. According to OMBI data, Barrie already lags far behind Ontario municipalities in cultural investment. If you ratify this cut, Barrie will rank dead last.

Mayor Ford supports investments in culture because they are wise. This week the Ontario Arts Council released a study on the impacts of arts and culture on Ontario tourism (http://www.arts.on.ca/Page4924.aspx). Arts and culture tourists generated $3.7 billion in GDP province-wide in 2010, provided 67,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in wages, and paid $1.7 billion in taxes. Arts and culture tourists spent twice as much per trip, and spent nearly twice as long.

Barrie is the arts and culture destination in Simcoe County, and draws an audience from wider still. As I point out in the Open Letter below, we can take a pass on this economic sector, but we will pay the price.

Please nurture our creative economy and reinstate the budget of the Cultural Grants program on Monday 28 January.

Sincerely

damian lopes

Barrie Arts and Culture Council

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