News Local

Council reluctant to cut grants

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

The Mady Centre for the Performing Arts in Barrie. BARRIE EXAMINER FILES

The Mady Centre for the Performing Arts in Barrie. BARRIE EXAMINER FILES

City arts groups and artists can keep their cash, for now.

Barrie councillors backed off specifically cutting $50,000 from cultural grants Monday, leaving $325,000 for operational, project and individual funding in 2013.

However, the city's culture department has been instructed to reduce its $1.8-million budget by $50,000 this year - not including services to the general public - or increase its revenue by that amount. Any cuts will come back to councillors for approval.

"But not to cancel Canada Day or New Year's Eve, but to find the $50,000," said Coun. Alex Nuttall.

Those cuts could conceivably include the culture grants.

"I do think the culture department has to share the pain," said Mayor Jeff Lehman, referring to this year's city budget process. "This ($50,000 reduction) could include cutting the grants. Let them tell us.

"But everything is service to the general public. There is no free lunch. Everything has an impact."

City staff, including CAO Carla Ladd and Ed Archer, general manager of corporate services, told council services to the public would have to be cut to reduce culture department expenses by $50,000.

"We operate on a shoestring budget," said culture director Rudi Quammie Williams. "There is absolutely no way in this department that we can make a $50,000 cut without affecting services to the public.

"A circus act might be a little easier."

Ladd suggested there are opportunities to raise the money, and that will be explored.

There was no specific timetable mentioned for the staff report detailing possible cuts or revenue increases to the culture department.

But a majority of councillors wanted to look at the options to save money, or find new revenues.

"I don't see how the city is going to ever keep up the grants it is giving now," said Coun. Peter Silveira.

"It was never intended to hurt the arts community," said Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth of any culture grant reduction. "It was looking for ways not to increase taxes. You were caught in the net."

On Monday, council approved a 3.3% increase in property taxes this year for homeowners. The tax hike began at 4.1% on Jan. 21.

Coun. Lynn Strachan did try to restore the $50,000 culture grant funding, however.

"The grants help maintain the sustainability of our cultural community," she said. "In the grand scheme of things, $50,000 makes a big difference to these groups and residents of Barrie. I think it is well spent."

Coun. Barry Ward said there is too much emphasis on the economic impact of culture. He said the city doesn't build parks or arenas expecting return on investment.

"We should be doing it (investing in culture) because we want to create a better community," he said.

Strachan and Ward both pointed out that Barrie does have a plan for culture, called Building a Creative Future.

But only Lehman supported them, and the motion lost 8-3.

Council faced a full chamber Monday of both artists and members of city arts groups opposed to cutting the culture grants funding.

Jill Price is a visual artist who received a $2,000 arts grant from the city last year.

"I suggest we no longer look at this program as an expenditure, but as an investment," she said. "I believe an artist's ability allows them to make a dollar go further than any other professional.

"I am just one artist who could be affected by the cut. For some artists, it could be the difference between surviving and thriving."

Damian Lopes, head of the Barrie Arts and Culture Council, is a published poet and aspiring novelist who received a $2,500 cultural grant from the city last year.

He said culture's importance cannot be overestimated - to both the community and its economy.

"I ask you to join us to change our culture, we ask to partner with you," Lopes told council. "The arts have made a significant and undeniable difference to the downtown, and our city as a whole."

But Coun. Doug Shipley asked Lopes what the return has been on the $11,000 in city grants he has received during several years, funding used to help produce a novel and two manuscripts of poetry.

Lopes mentioned printing, book launches and improving the city's profile.

"It raises the profile of the city and gives the city a different branding," he said of his writing. "I am confident the city will be paid back in the future.

"Culture is business."

Shipley proposed the cultural grants cuts during the Jan. 21 budget discussions. He said the $275,000 funding level takes the city back to 2011 levels.

Claudine Benoit of the Barrie Film Festival said the city operating grant, $20,000 last year, represents 11% of the group's annual budget. Its 105 programs had 15,777 viewers, not all of them paying.

"We know council faces a number of challenges," she said. "The arts are not specifically being targeted."

Theatre By The Bay only receives about 30% of its revenues from ticket sales. It's $22,000 operating grant and $2,500 project grant last year helped TBTB leverage funding from the provincial and federal government levels.

"I believe culture is the heartbeat of a community, and a major economic driver," said Angela Baldwin, of TBTB, which is entering its 12th season as a professional theatre production. "The arts are a good investment for the city."

Ted Fullerton is with the Campus Gallery/Culture Barrie; Campus Gallery received an $11,000 operating grant in 2012. He spoke about the economic benefits of culture.

Williams said there has not, as yet, been a study done in Barrie on return on culture investment.

"But it is highly unlikely that the results would be different than the results from across the country," he said.

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 cultural grants funding are part of the city's 2013 operating budget/capital plan.



Should the city increase or decrease funding to the arts?

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