Toronto mayor Rob Ford has made repeated promises to “stop the gravy train”. Recently, the City Manager has made recommendations that foster the opinion that the arts are, in fact, “gravy” and apparently not a vital part of our city. Today, the Toronto Arts community held a press conference to respond to the recommendations.
Specifically, Toronto’s City Manager’s recommendation going before the Executive Committee on September 19th is to, “Reduce the Community Partnership and Investment Program based on consideration of existing legal obligations, and the following criteria: eliminate allocations where City funding represents less than five percent of the program budget or is less than $10,000.”
The reality of this statement is that almost all grants to the major cultural organizations of our city will be eliminated, as well as up to 543 of the Toronto Arts Council’s 700 grants to arts organizations and individual artists. This can potentially have a devastating effect on the culture of our city.
In response to this prospect, a group of arts organizations, including the Toronto Arts Foundation and Business For The Arts, collaborated to form Friends of the Arts, which has launched a petition in support of city arts funding. There have been over 10,000 signatures to this petition, and people are signing it at the rate of 1000 people per day.
Speakers today included Jim Fleck, the Chair of Business for the Arts, Claire Hopkinson, the Executive Director of the Toronto Arts Foundation, Robert J. Foster, the Co-Chair of Creative Capital Gains, theatre director and dramaturge Weyni Mengesha and film director Richie Mehta.
The sentiment of Fleck, Foster and Hopkinson was similar – an acknowledgment that the arts community needs to participate in finding solutions to the budget crisis of the city, and a plea to allow the arts community to help the city find acceptable solutions for all. “We believe we can work together to find savings. We believe we can do it with a scalpel, not a hatchet,” said Fleck. Other industries, such as tourism and even construction, need the arts community to attract talented individuals to our city. “We want to get the best people to work for our companies…we want people to want to live here,” continued Fleck.
Mengesha and Mehta both recounted their own stories of how grants were essential to their development as artists. “Films funded by grants allowed me to find my voice,” said Mehta, “…without grants, artists will be on street corners.”
Many other members of Toronto’s arts community were in attendance, including film director Atom Egoyan, who stated that grants “…are a tremendous show of support, and so monumental for a young artist… Let’s not take what the city has to offer for granted.”
Foster said “The grant level must stay firm.” This is true if we want the city of Toronto to remain a centre for world-class performances, and if we want to continue to develop the next generation of talent, many of whom are the people we review here on Mooney on Theatre. This press conference extended the olive branch to the city, and hopefully they will consider a mutually beneficial relationship with the arts community.
Seema Jethalal, Managing Director of the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre and Manifesto Community Projects stated it best: “cut the gravy, don’t cut the soul.”
Please consider signing the petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/friendsofthearts/
A complete list of grants to major cultural organizations: www.toronto.ca/culture/funding.htm
A complete list of grants by the Toronto Arts Council: www.torontoartscouncil.org/past-grant-recipients