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Councillors set to tighten grants regulations

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner



Barrie's cultural grants guidelines are being more tightly framed.

Councillors gave initial approval Monday to a motion which deals with individuals working for the city receiving grants, specifies residency requirements, slightly changes the composition of the jury panel which decides on the grants and limits its expenses.

"We have to manage the optics of the (cultural grants) program," said Rudi Quammie Williams, Barrie's culture director. "You get into the area of what it is and the optics of what it is. There were concerns raised about how it looks to the public."

This year, the city handed out $325,000 in cultural grants to 17 community arts groups and 15 individual artists.

Earlier this year, Barrie resident Darren Roskam told councillors he doesn't believe those who work for the city, as employees or on a contract basis, should be eligible for the grants. He also said non-Barrie residents shouldn't receive cultural grants.

But changes to the grants guidelines don't limit them to just Barrie residents, and even attempts to limit the grants to those living within 50 kilometres of Barrie were turned down by a majority of councillors.

"The point of the cultural grants is to grow culture in Barrie," said Coun. Lynn Strachan. "It's very short-sighted to say we can only look at artists who live in Barrie."

Grant applications will still be accepted from Barrie artists who may live outside the city, in Simcoe County, but who contribute significantly to its culture. These residents must indicate in the applications that they are non-residents.

Williams has said the existing guidelines don't specifically list criteria for being a resident of Barrie - but speak of supporting individual artists who are clearly engaged in their arts activity in Barrie.

Coun. Barry Ward, the acting mayor, asked Williams how many complaints the city has had during the seven years the cultural grants have been awarded. Williams said one.

The new policy would also state that full- and part-time city employees, and individuals who are directly contracted for their non-artistic services to the city's cultural department, are ineligible for individual cultural grants – in the year of their employment or contract.

But organizations applying for cultural grants with memberships which may include full-time and part-time employees and individuals who have contracted their non-artisic services remain eligible for the cultural grants program.

"I don't want the King Edward Choir to be ineligible for a cultural grant because three of its 500 members are employees of the city," Strachan said.

Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth convinced councillors that applicants must be able to prove they live in Simcoe County. She was unsuccessful convincing them that half an organization's board should be Barrie residents.

"I see that addressing a problem that doesn't exist," said Ward.

"To date, zero groups have applied to us from outside Simcoe County," Williams said.

Ainsworth also wants the cultural grants program reviewed annually, instead of once every four years.

"It's $325,000 and I don't think we should be too busy to see how it's running," she said. "These are taxpayers' dollars. I just don't think the grants program should run on auto-pilot."

But most councillors said review every four years was acceptable, especially since there are regular updates.

The jury panel which determines the grants will now have four members from outside the city, and one who is a Barrie resident. Barrie's culture department had used a panel of arts consultants from across Ontario to review and rate the grant applicants during a two-and-a-half month process.

Ainsworth was successful in limiting their expenses to $7,000 annually for the jurors' honorarium, mileage, meals and accommodations. The bill was $7,139 this year.

And all jurors must be Ontario residents.

Coun. Doug Shipley noted that many city organizations operate with nothing but volunteers, and wondered why it couldn't be the same way with the cultural grant jurors.

“Dollar value doesn't always equate to expertise,” he said. “A lot of organizations are run 100% by volunteers, who never take any money.”

But Williams has another view.

“If we expect a grant program that is professional. . .I'm afraid we will have to pay for quality jurors to assess the applicants,” he said.

Roskam disagrees.

“We do have exceptional people that we may trust, right here; all that we need to do is ask them, try to assemble them,” he said in an e-mail to the media. “There is no need to pay others to do what we are able to do right here, and how are we to grow our own voice while asking others to tell us what it is?”

The city will also continue talking with its neighbours - the County of Simcoe, Innsifil, Oro-Medonte and Springwater townships - about arts and culture programs, and funding.

"Our major market is Simcoe County so it makes sense for them to be involved in the process," said Coun. Alex Nuttall.

The cultural grants program allows organizations to apply for operational support, or funding, and they can also apply for a maximum of $5,000 in project grants.

Individual artists are only eligible for project grants of as much as $5,000.

From 2006 to 2011, the city spent $1.9 million on cultural grants; groups and individuals used this money to generate $17.4 million in revenue.

Despite this year's total of $325,000 in cultural grants, city staff say that's below both the average and median of comparable municipalities.


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