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Politicians call for more equitable funding for Hamilton arts groups

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

It’s time for Hamilton to provide the same level of funding to Theatre Aquarius that it does to other arts organizations, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, says Councillor Chad Collins.

The councillor pointed out the large financial discrepancy that exists between the AGO and Theatre Aquarius, saying the city provides $1 million to the AGO in an on-going agreement since 2007, while Opera Hamilton gets about $127,000, the Hamilton Philharmonic $114,000, and Boris Brott about $90,000. Theatre Aquarius, in contrast, receives $73,534 from the city in grants, he says. This year, because of cuts to its federal funding, Theatre Aquarius is asking for an additional $34,000 on top of its usual grant from the city.

It’s a funding disparity  that has to change, says Collins, the city’s representative to Theatre Aquarius.

“It’s about fairness and equity,” he said during the second day of reviewing Hamilton’s funding to various arts and agencies. “Look at the other groups.”

A study conducted last year by Theatre Aquarius, now in its 40th season, found the organization generates about $12.1 million in direct economic benefits for local businesses.

In addition, Theatre Aquarius attracted more than 120,000 people to its events, while the AGO enticed 250,000 people to the gallery.

“Look at the return on investment,” said Collins. “There needs to be an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Lorna Zaremba, general manager of Theatre Aquarius, pointed out that other cities provide more funding to their theatres, including $763,722 from Edmontonto the Citadel, and $500,000 from London to its Grand Theatre.

Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie said councillors need to take a long look at how the city funds its arts groups in a more equitable manner.

“We really have to come to grips with how Hamilton funds the arts,” said McHattie, who was supportive of Theatre Aquarius’s request.

“There is still room to invest in certain sectors in exchange for economic benefit.”

The city’s arts advisory committee is scheduled to present its recommendation on how Hamilton should better fund local arts organizations at a Jan. 28 public meeting at the Hamilton Library.

For the most part, the other arts organizations and other agencies, including the Hamilton Beach Rescue and the Royal Botanical Gardens, held to the city’s zero per cent target this year.

Even Opera Hamilton didn’t try to hit up the city for more funding.  It receives about $127,000 annually from the city. Six years ago, the organization was on the verge of bankruptcy. But after relocating from Hamilton Place to Theatre Aquarius and making some severe cuts, the organization had a $70,000 surplus in 2012 and expects about a $100,000 surplus in 2013. The extra cash will reduce Opera Hamilton’s accumulated deficit from $721,000 to a projected $552,000 in 2013.

“You are on the road to recovery,” said Mountain councillor Tom Jackson. “Well done.”

Councillors still have to consider the funding requests the agencies as part of their 2013 budget deliberations scheduled to continue over the next weeks.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton Police Service is scheduled to appear before councillors to present its 2013 budget at the Feb. 6 government issues committee meeting. Politicians, though, are expected to give Police Chief Glenn De Caire a rough ride for presenting a request for a 3.9 per cent increase. The chief is planning on talking to each politician prior to making his presentation to the full council.

Also, HamiltonEntertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. officials will be appearing before councillors to present the 2013 budget possibility in March. It will be about the same time that Global Spectrum/Live Nation and Carmen’s take over operating Copps, Hamilton Place and the Convention Centre.

Jackson insisted HECFI officials report to councillors about the organization’s financial situation. They are scheduled to appear before politicians Jan. 31.

“They need to answer questions about some of the (financial) discrepancies, and the bookings,” he said.

CityHousing Hamilton’s budget will be presented as part of staff’s departmental budget presentations scheduled to begin next week.

 

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