Friday, October 29, 2010

Where some of Ontario's new mayors stack up on arts and culture

Last week, The Arts Advocate Report provided subscribers with a round up where arts policy fit into Ontario municipal mayoralty elections in major regional cities. To keep you up to date, here are the mayors elected in cities looked at last week, and whether their public position speaks to arts and culture.

On face value, it looks like Windsor will be out ahead.

Kitchener Carl Zehr: No specific platform, but does speak to importance of arts and culture

London Joe Fontana: No reference to arts and culture

Ottawa Jim Watson: No specific platform, but covers culture in tourism policy

Sudbury Marianne Matichuk: No specifics, but believes private money should pay for new performing arts centre

Toronto Rob Ford: No specific platform on arts and culture

Windsor Eddie Francis: Speaks specifically to role of arts and culture in Windsor, and the place of the cultural plan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Connecting the dots of government investment and public support for the arts

At last week’s open board meeting of the Canada Council for the Arts, Chair Joseph Rotman, Vice Chair Simon Brault and Director Robert Sirman reinforced two key points to the overflow crowd in Toronto:

* The board of the Council enjoys the confidence of the Government of Canada, a result, in its view, of the alignment of Council’s activities and priorities of the Government.

* The current $182 million allocation to Canada’s arts sector, through the Council, is significant and very much appreciated, especially in this time of fiscal restraint.

The Council acknowledges that, on a constant dollar per capita basis, its funding is smaller than in 1990; but it does not see itself in a growth phase at this time. Pointing to the realities of the competing spending priorities faced by Ottawa (and evidenced by the sheer number of witnesses participating at the House of Commons Finance Committee pre-budget hearings underway), the Canada Council board is carefully acknowledging the ‘potential for growth’ without making the ask at this time.

When queried as to why the board of the Canada Council for the Arts was not more aggressively championing a funding increase for the arts, Chair Joseph Rotman delivered a spirited response that pointed to reality of governing at this time. He reinforced again the confidence of government enjoyed by the Council, and stressed the need for everyone to be sensitive to the tenor of our times. (Not sure everyone agreed with him!)

The link to the recent Environics survey on the attitudes of Ontarians to arts and the quality of life (completed for the Ontario Arts Council) becomes salient here: 81% of Ontarians agree that government should spend dollars to support the arts. Dig a little deeper though, and the numbers show that 38% of respondents ‘strongly agree’ with this statement, while 43% are in the ‘somewhat agree’ category.

In this period of shrinking dollars and belt tightening, it’s going to be important for all of us to move people from the ‘somewhat agree’ group to the ‘strongly agree’ group.

From that observation, it’s back to the Canada Council’s new strategic plan and their enhanced focus on ‘public engagement’. I’ll connect those dots another time!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cultural issues on the municipal election agenda -- it's happening

With Thanksgiving behind us, Ontarians will now turn their attention to the municipal elections in earnest. This year, the cultural sector is a force that candidates are paying heed to, like never before. The politicization of arts issues in the last federal election is ricocheting across the political landscape, and candidates and parties recognize the risk, media wise at least, of being seen as offside.

In Toronto, the largest cultural centre in the country, ArtsVote and the film industry both elevated the importance of cultural contributions. At the Toronto Mayoralty Arts Debate held late September, the crowd was beyond capacity with people even turned away at the overflow spaces. Film Ontario, centred in Toronto, hosted a debate earlier in the month where the leading mayoralty candidates demonstrated their understanding of this rapidly evolving industry, looking to demonstrate how they see it fitting into Toronto.

Outside Toronto, arts issues are also on the agenda. Last night, there was an arts debate in Kingston, also reportedly with overflow crowds. Similarly in Windsor and Ottawa, the arts sector has come together to canvas candidates on their positions about the arts. Information on candidates’ views about the arts is readily available.

Individually, each of these initiatives may not command much attention beyond their immediate target audience. Together, they demonstrate that the cultural sector is taking arts advocacy more seriously, and having more impact than perhaps thought possible in the past. Aided by initiatives like Culture Days, it’s clear that Ontario citizens do embrace, participate in and value arts and cultural opportunities.

Arts and cultural issues don’t dominate the municipal election agenda this fall. But candidates also know that to ignore them, or attack them, is folly.