Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arts Council England CEO offers arguments to sustain public arts funding that resonate in Ontario as well

As Ontario’s cultural sector girds itself to demonstrate the public benefit of sustained government investment in arts, heritage and the cultural industries in the face of expenditure program reviews at all levels of government, we might look to the arguments being put forward on the other side of the pond by Alan Davey, CEO of Arts Council England.

Last week, Mr. Davey put forward a powerful and cogent set of arguments to sustain public arts funding under any government, Conservative or Labour. Speaking to a Conservative arts conference, Culture is Right, he steered clear of any suggestion of entitlement to argue that the ‘complex mixed economy model’ of public and private investment in the arts sector in England is indeed the ‘model of the future, not of the past’.

I want to straight away get away from any idea of the Arts as a monolithic public service ripe to be cut, and instead assert the truth: that the arts live in a complex mixed economy which could provide a model for how public investment could work elsewhere. The model is a model of the future, not one of the past, it’s one that works with public money levering private money, with the arms’ length method of making decisions putting it outside the vagaries of short term political whim….So my message is this: strengthen and celebrate the model, don’t weaken it.

The notion that public investment in the arts levers private investment is not new. Rarely though, has such a clear and powerfully-demonstrated argument been put forward in a such a positive, compelling manner. Moving away from the ‘woe is me’ argument, Mr. Davey holds up the complex ecology of arts funding, one similar to the system in Canada and Ontario, as a model to be emulated in other sectors. “The mixed economy means money works hard, and hardworking money is especially missed.” He goes on, “We’ll need to help you encourage the Treasury to be an intelligent funder and to convince them that not all public spending is bad, that ours works hard, and because of this, there is a disproportionate effect when it is cut.”

With pre-budget hearings underway federally and now in Ontario, and as cultural organizations muster arguments at the municipal level, Alan Davey’s speech may resonate well beyond the borders of England.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ontario's Fall Economic Outlook -- Measures to address the bleak forecast will wait for the spring Budget

There are no surprises in Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s Fall Economic Outlook released this afternoon. As anticipated in the latest issue of The Arts Advocate Report, and clearly signaled by the Finance Minister for some time now, the Ontario deficit is much higher than predicted, expected to stand at $24.7 billion this year.

The government acknowledges that it’s facing expenditure pressures in many areas, not the least of which are job training and the auto sector. That said, the government appears to be withstanding pressure to make in-year expenditure adjustments. For the future though, the Ontario Treasury Board is launching a review of all spending to ensure that the key priorities of the McGuinty government – job creation, health care and education – remain sustainable. The outcome of that review will be part of next year's budget.

Notable for the cultural sector, this review includes a review of all boards, agencies and commissions “to ensure they are meeting Ontarians' needs and expectations.” Recognizing that the vast majority of Ministry of Culture expenditures are through agencies, this will be one initiative that arts, heritage and cultural industries will want to watch closely.

The province-wide pre-budget consultations get underway with the release of this document today. An online consultation is already open and community roundtables will be announced in November.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finance Minister provides few hints to culture about Thursday's Fall Economic Statement

Today, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan provided few hints as to what the cultural sector might expect in Thursday’s Fall Economic Statement. Indeed, it could well be the 2010 budget before any meaningful details are revealed, leaving the Ontario government and Culture Minister Aileen Carroll a few more months to focus on the enhanced cultural investments this year.

In a speech to a business audience at the Canadian Club and Empire Club in Toronto, Minister Duncan said that sustaining public services in the face of a persistent, and large, Ontario deficit will mean focusing on priorities. Those priorities are health and education. This could, of course, be code to suggest that serious cuts to other program areas are on the horizon: “We must focus our priorities and make strategic and sometimes difficult choices” he said.

That said, the Finance Minister also sent signals suggesting that investments in 21st century industries, including the Entertainment and Creative Cluster need to be sustained. It, along with industries like financial services and information technology, continue to create employment he says. Does this mean that culture will be spared the broad stroke cuts of a review of program service delivery?

Maybe Thursday’s Fall Economic Statement will provide the details. It’s more likely to happen in next year’s provincial budget though.

This gives the cultural sector a few months to ensure that its impact and challenges are heard in the coming months, as the pre-budget ramp-up gets underway.

Watch for details on pre-budget hearings at the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. As well, the Finance Minister is expected to hold consultations in communities across the province.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cultural sector active at pre-budget consultations

Despite the lull of the current break at both the House of Commons and the Ontario Legislature, preparations for next year’s budget cycle are getting underway in full force.  In Ottawa, the Standing Committee on Finance is in the midst of its pre-budget hearings.  A number of cultural organizations, including Orchestras Canada, the Canadian Conference of the Arts, ACTRA, Directors’ Guild of Canada and the Association of Canadian Publishers have all appeared.  A number of the national performing arts organizations are expected to appear later this month when the Committee visits Toronto on October 21.  To stay on top of the hearings, go to and click on committees.

Next week, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will lay out the “challenges facing Ontario's economy and the tough choices Ontarians will have to make as the government focuses on its priorities” in a speech to the Toronto and Ontario Canadian clubs.  Likely setting the stage for a fall economic statement that will focus on harsh reality of the Ontario budget, policy watchers will looking for any clues about what to expect next year.  Provincial pre-budget consultations will likely follow shortly thereafter.