Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL -

As the City of Cal­gary pre­pares for its next bud­get, it seems an ideal time to en­sure fund­ing to arts groups hits the right note. For many years, local artists and arts or­ga­ni­za­tions ben­e­fited from the gen­er­ous sup­port of dozens of cor­po­ra­tions. The re­sult was a thriv­ing, di­verse arts scene with of­fer­ings that ri­valled those found in cities three to six times our size. But cor­po­rate fund­ing for the arts has de­creased over the past few years, as Cal­gary faced eco­nomic down­turns, con­tin­ued chal­lenges in the oil­patch, stalled pipe­line con­struc­tion and un­em­ploy­ment rates higher than the na­tional av­er­age.

Bravo to the com­pa­nies that still sup­port the arts, but the re­al­ity is the sup­port doesn’t hit the lev­els it once did. That’s led some or­ga­ni­za­tions to shrink of­fer­ings and even cease oper­a­tions, as the Cal­gary In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Fes­ti­val did this sum­mer.

Cal­gary was re­cently named the fourth most liv­able city in the world by The Econ­o­mist, but the cat­e­gory in this rank­ing that left the great­est room for im­prove­ment was “cul­ture and en­vi­ron­ment.” In fact, Cal­gary ranks the low­est in this cat­e­gory com­pared with other cities on the top 10 list.

The idea that there’s room for im­prove­ment is no surprise to many in­volved in Cal­gary arts.

Cal­gary Arts De­vel­op­ment has stud­ied where the city stands when it comes to arts grants per capita. Its data from 2015 showed Van­cou­ver at the top of the heap, re­ceiv­ing $19.36 per capita in arts grants, fol­lowed by Ed­mon­ton at $13.54, Mon­treal at $9.35, Toronto at $8.90, Win­nipeg at $7.02 and Cal­gary at $6.50.

The idea that there’s room for im­prove­ment is no surprise to many in­volved in Cal­gary arts.

Some of those fig­ures have changed over the last cou­ple of years, but not nec­es­sar­ily in Cal­gary’s favour. While in­creases to arts grants are oc­cur­ring in Van­cou­ver and Toronto, the an­nual grant of $6.45 mil­lion to Cal­gary Arts De­vel­op­ment has largely re­mained static, save for cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments.

To city coun­cil’s credit, it no­ticed the prob­lem and pro­vided $1 mil­lion in emer­gency re­siliency fund­ing for arts in 2016 and 2017. Ad­di­tion­ally, the city gave $2 mil­lion to 10 large arts or­ga­ni­za­tions in Cal­gary last sum­mer as “bridge fund­ing ” to help them through dif­fi­cult eco­nomic times. Rather than deal­ing with emer­gency fund­ing prob­lems, how­ever, it may be time for the city to look at sup­port­ing the arts in a more sus­tain­able man­ner. Per capita arts grants need to be more in line with what’s oc­cur­ring in other Cana­dian cities.

Patti Pon, pres­i­dent and CEO of Cal­gary Arts De­vel­op­ment (an um­brella/con­nec­tor group sup­port­ing hun­dreds of artists and or­ga­ni­za­tions), says the grant amount re­quired to do this is $19.5 mil­lion. The fis­cal cli­mate in the city is still a chal­leng­ing one, but Pon notes the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of this in­vest­ment, in ad­di­tion to the cul­tural ben­e­fits, would be many.

For ex­am­ple, in 2017 Cal­gary ex­pe­ri­enced $126 mil­lion in direct eco­nomic out­put via the arts; local arts or­ga­ni­za­tions em­ployed the equiv­a­lent of 702 full-time staff; and an ad­di­tional 8,379 artists were hired by local groups. A vi­brant arts and cul­ture scene is also key in at­tract­ing new busi­nesses, con­fer­ences, events and vis­i­tors, all of which adds to the city’s bot­tom line.

Last year, there were al­most 3.4 mil­lion vis­its to 25,000 con­certs, plays, shows, read­ings, fes­ti­vals and other events in Cal­gary. It demon­strates that the arts do in­deed mat­ter to many Cal­gar­i­ans and our econ­omy. Now it’s time to get cre­ative and re­al­ize that it mat­ters how the arts are funded.


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