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Council calls for intermission on arts funding

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Hamilton politicians delayed a decision until next spring on whether they will boost funding to the city’s community arts groups.

The tricky issue also involves whether some so-called “anchor” arts organizations should get preferential treatment for the city’s funding at the expense of independent and smaller artists.

Last June council’s Arts Advisory Commission recommended increasing the city’s funding to arts groups by $1 million to $2.9 million in 2014. The money, the commission recommended, would be divvied up among a number of programs to finance small and independent artists.

But larger arts groups, especially the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Theatre Aquarius, Opera Hamilton and the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, argued the city should concentrate most of its funding to “anchor” arts groups that have a direct economic impact on the city.

For instance, Theatre Aquarius attracts about 120,000 people a year to its events, yet only receives from the city about $73,500 in city funding in 2012 and 2013. Yet, its economic impact on the city is about $4 million.

Hamiltonis among the lowest ranked Canadian cities when it comes to spending on the arts, ahead of only Halifax. Ottawa, Winnipeg and Toronto rank far ahead of the city.

Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, who sits on Theatre Aquarius’s board as council’s representative, has backed the idea that the city should help those arts groups that provide the largest economic impact to the city.

He has talked about the city creating a “more equitable distribution” of city funds to anchor arts groups.

Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark said every organization is looking for more money from the city. And since the arts commission’s recommendations, it seems artists are under the mistaken impressionHamiltonwill be providing more money, he said.

“How can we accomplish it with our budget?” he said.

Councillors agreed how the city provides grants to community organizations, including arts groups needs an overhaul. Dundas councillor Russ Powers, who chairs the city’s grants committee, said the community partnership program, which has been under fire over the last couple of years with how it provides funding to groups, continues to be examined. The same review should be conducted on how the city provides funding to arts groups, he said.

“It’s long overdue,” said Powers. “It makes all kinds of sense to provide options.”

But he suggested a new council after the 2014 municipal election should determine which funding model to establish.

John Hertel, the former chief executive officer of Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. and now the director of the city’s enterprise management, said he will provide politicians with a “frame work” for a new funding model early in the new year. He will solicit councillors’ opinions, which he will then incorporate into a report to be ready by the spring for politicians’ consideration.

“To me, June is the stake in the ground,” he said.

It was a process that had Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr irked.

“A lot of work has already been done,” he said. “The arts community heard that the last time.”

Tricia Le Clair, chair of the arts advisory committee, reluctantly agreed to wait until June for council’s decision.

“June is fine,” she said. “January would be better.”

 

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