Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"My Ottawa includes Culture": Memories of 'the issues, 2004

In her GetGuerrilla article, Ottawa writer and arts activist Suki Lee outlined the issues moving the local arts community and spurring action:

Imagine the great capitals of the world such as London or Paris without art. Their economies would collapse in the absence of culture as a central pillar. In the same way, without thriving local culture, Ottawa, the capital city of what is widely considered one of the greatest nations on the planet, would disappear into economic oblivion.
On February 11 [2004], a draft of the City of Ottawa Budget for 2004 proposed an 80% cut to funding for the arts and the elimination of all funding for festivals. Due to growth and added budget pressures, the City was seeking $101.5-million—an amount that would pave the way for a 0% tax increase. By way of solution, City staff proposed the drastic reduction of a local arts budget that was already one of the smallest per capita in Canada.

The Globe and Mail characterized the debate as "a nasty civic uprising" over its sweeping cuts and opposition to Mayor Bob Chiarelli's call for a three-per-cent tax hike. Hundreds of angry citizens calling for a third consecutive tax freeze stormed the city's chamber councils earlier this week to boo down councillors."

Suki Lee's article continues on, reiterating views from the business community - someone had been calculating their Bohemian Index: Among the many letters that resonated with Ottawa’s business-minded Councillors was the one sent by top executives representing the employees of Alcatel (North America and Canada), Telesat, BCE & Bell Canada, Mitel Networks, and TELUS. The letter extrapolated on the direct link between culture and economic development, and the necessary relationship between the arts and a thriving city: “Attracting and retaining precious business resources, gaining access to an enriched pool of intellectual and creative talent, and building robust relationships that lead to new opportunities—these are the reasons why our companies support the arts. And that's why we believe the City of Ottawa—both as an investor and a partner—must continue to support the arts in our community. It is not simply a nice gesture or a righteous obligation, but an intelligent and enduring investment in Ottawa's future prosperity.”

Actor and blogger Kris Joseph's blog reminds me of the sentiments du jour: … of course, the Sun Media editors always put in the “last word” on the letters they publish. In this case they said “We don’t see how - plenty of people manage to enjoy themselves without the government picking up part of the tab“. I guess they wither didn’t read my letter, or I didn’t make myself clear. Arts funding is an investment, the sum total of which generally makes up only a small fraction of the cost of creating arts events… and the returns on that investment are huge, though somewhat hard to pin down. Businesses get government subsidies because businesses bring universal benefits to communities; the arts are no different. Culture creates quality of life. A society without culture is a society like the old East Germany: utterly devoid of appeal; a sausage factory where people spend their days planning an escape.

Following a strong campaign, the final 2004 budget did not include the same level of cuts.

Suki Lee's article continues, foreshadowing the 2006 campaign:
Instead of waiting for this situation to arise again, lobbying efforts among arts supporters must be ongoing. This year, supporters lobbied newly elected politicians, many of whom were steadfastly against supporting the arts. Over the next few years, however, there just may be a paradigm shift. Ottawa City Councillors will start fundraising for their re-election campaigns as early as fall of 2004, and campaigning will begin in earnest by spring 2005. Many City Councillors may choose to include clear support for the arts in their campaign platforms. When it comes to arts funding, the people will have the power in the next municipal election. To ensure this, our arts community must create a dialogue with the public to instill an understanding of who comprises the arts community, what we do, and where we stand. This education could go a long way towards stopping proposed cuts slated to reappear in upcoming budget decisions—the next as early as October 2004.

September 2006: what are we in for?


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