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Five people to speak against arts cuts at city council Monday

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner



Five people will oppose a $50,000 cut in cultural grants funding in Barrie’s $250-million operating budget on Monday.

Angela Baldwin, Claudine Benoit, Jill Price, Damian Lopes and Ted Fullerton are all slated to speak against the reduction, which would slice arts group and individual funding to $275,000 from $325,000 this year.

“This cut is in stark contrast to council’s past policy to use culture as an economic driver,” said Lopes, head of the Barrie Arts and Culture Council. “If passed, this reduction in investment threatens our cultural plan, will reduce everyone’s quality of life and will increase difficulties in attracting investment and professionals, like doctors.”

Lopes, a poet, received a $2,500 cultural grant from the city last year.

Jill Price is a visual artist who received a $2,000 arts grant from the city last year and will be speaking against the $50,000 cut as well.

“(It’s about) briefing the council and Barrie’s constituents on the huge impact the individual and organizational project grants have locally and abroad, to build the capacity of artists and the city of Barrie as Simcoe County’s cultural hub,” she said of her deputation.

Coun. Doug Shipley proposed the cultural grants cuts during last Monday’s budget discussions.

He says the $275,000 funding level takes the city back to 2011 levels; Barrie’s cultural department would decide where the $50,000 reduction takes place — in group or individual grants, or a combination of both — if council gives final approval to the rollback Monday.

“Everybody took cuts this year, everybody got some things rejected,” Shipley said of city departments. “I think culture is great to have, I support culture personally.

“(But) we are in a tight, tight position and money is tight and I really think taxpayers wouldn’t be overly excited about giving out grants at this point in time," he added. "We could slim up on that a little bit.”

Shipley said there are some Ontario cities which give more money than Barrie in cultural funding, and some which give less.

“I was just trying to come to a number that would make the citizens happy. I think most citizens, if they knew right now we were giving away $325,000 in cultural grants, that’s a lot of money,” he said. “And I’m not sure what the return is on it yet.”

Baldwin, who’s also making a deputation to council Monday, is with Theatre By The Bay, which received a $22,000 operating grant and a $2,500 project grant last year.

Benoit is with the Barrie Film Festival, which got a $20,000 operating grant and Fullerton is with the Campus Gallery/Culture Barrie. Campus Gallery received an $11,000 operating grant in 2012.

Shipley says he has been consistent in his approach to funding using public money. Last year, he opposed giving free ice to Hockey Night in Barrie, Barrie MP Patrick Brown’s hospital fundraiser, or giving money to the Clarkson Cup, the women’s hockey championship at Barrie Molson Centre in 2011.

And he has concerns about the level of cultural grants to some organizations. Shipley mentioned the Caribbean Cultural Institute (CCI), which is involved with Caribfest. CCI received an $8,000 grant last year and Shipley says it has received more than $50,000 since 2008.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “I understand this is to help people promote and grow their arts, and I think that’s great. I just have some issues with who and how it’s going to, and I think most of the public would too if they saw the list. I know I’m getting calls and e-mails, definitely many a week now, about the tax rate and about spending.

“I think this is one area where we can perhaps tighten up a little bit, and I’ve tried to do that," Shipley added.

He also has concerns about some of the individual cultural grants.

“We’re giving money to some people to take time off work to do projects, like write books and things. I don’t think most taxpayers can justify that,” he said.

Shipley says some city arts groups have understood the proposed cut, but that it could be difficult this year because they have already done their 2013 budgets.

He says eight of 10 city councillors agreed with the cut last Monday.

Late last year, council approved a new framework of guidelines for Barrie’s cultural grants. It limits individuals working for the city receiving grants, specifies residency requirements, slightly changes the composition of the jury panel which decides on the grants and caps its expenses.

The cuts to cultural grants funding are part of the city’s 2013 operating budget/capital plan, which will be considered for final approval by council Monday.

It includes a 3.5% property tax increase that adds about $124 to a typical Barrie home assessed at $277,000, which had taxes of $3,625 last year. With that blended, municipal/education tax increase this property’s 2013 tax total would be $3,749.

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