amongst books

amongst books

Friday, November 07, 2008

Arts Cuts Threatened Yet Again

The City of Ottawa in its draft budget is holding the people of Ottawa for ransom once again by threatening to completely eliminate arts funding for the majority of the programs and drastically reducing the remainder. Assuming these preposterous cuts actually go through, here is a list of programs that would have their funding blasted to kingdom come:


Annual Operating
Project Funding
Individual – Creation, Production & Collaborations
Ottawa Book Awards
Karsh Award Program

Arts Funding Initiatives - Arts Investment Strategy
Rural Arts Funding Program
Diversity Arts Funding Program
Arts Capacity Building Funding Program
Arts Stabilization/Investment Service/Endowment Feasibility

Heritage Funding Program
Heritage Projects
Service Organizations
Historical Societies

Festival Service Agreement
Festivals and Special Events
Fairs Annual Operating
Festival Sustainability Fund Agreement

The few remaining programs shall be reduced to a miniscule budget.

Other services such as OC Transpo are also threatened with massive cuts while citizens are being told they’ll have to pay user fees for standard city services.

It is fatiguing and disheartening to live in a city where the arts is constantly attacked and destabilized by uncertainty and ill will on the part of its government.

Most people involved in making the city an interesting and worthy place to live and to visit are busy with their projects and planning for next year, having to decide whether or not they can invest the time, money and effort into activities if they don’t know whether the city will be paying its fair share or not. Funding for such activities as the projects of individual artists, the Ottawa International Writers Festival, the literary site and journal I run ( and the Bywords Quarterly Journal) and other arts and cultural activities is essential to ensuring that the city is more than just a place to sleep.

Haven’t we already heard O’Brien say that the small amount of money to be gleaned from cutting the arts isn’t worth the effort? Since O’Brien’s term began as mayor, the City has substantially increased the number of staff on its payroll, yet these costs are not being examined at all. Oh sure, there are cuts to “full time equivalent positions,” but these are not real cuts, these are positions where the person is either on contract or retiring or resigning anyway.

Conversely a $4 million cut to the arts (and even the threat of a cut) will have destructive and lasting effects on the City of Ottawa. What’s particularly stupid is that a $4 million cut is just a drop in the bucket for the city. It won’t make a significant difference to home owners’ property taxes. We’re talking pennies per household here. It’s a purely symbolic attempt to pander to the public. It’s a myth that people, dare I use the phrase “ordinary citizens?” aren’t involved in the arts in some way.

Didn’t we just learn in the federal election what happens to politicians who presume that the majority of citizens have no involvement or interest in the arts?

This cut threat is happening just as many of us are preparing our grant applications once again. Last year’s threats to cut the arts resulted in a number of organizations and individual artists being too disheartened to prepare applications. I know artists who actually left Ottawa after the last threat of arts funding cuts because they saw no future in a city that enjoys playing sadistic games of chicken with its artists.

I don’t think artists should have to defend the value of what they do to a populace of intelligent and caring people who want to live in a vibrant city that attracts a wealth of new residents and tourists and increases revenue to city coffers. I don’t think that’s the artist’s job. And frankly, I don’t really believe that this is what the citizens of Ottawa actually want. As a citizen, I will speak out against the potential cuts but as someone who is working to keep the city vital through organizing cultural activities, I have to keep going, keep working on these endeavours, keep my vision from being distracted by the city’s threats. I need a stable environment in which to work, just like any other resident and worker.

That’s really all I have to say. If the city wants to have an artless society, this constant threat of cutbacks will ensure that it will.

If you want further information, go here.
If you want to have your say, you can contact your councillors, provide your feedback online or attend one of the public consultations.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Amanda for that excellent post and I am sorry that Bywords is being threatened. I am also worried for Lumiere - first Community Foundation and now the City cuts will have a drastic effect on the festival.

Pearl said...

Thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

That's what I find most irritating. Living in this kind of unsupportive environment, artists are constantly having to worry about surviving, which leaves little time for making significant contributions to the arts world. It's a waste of energy; that's what it is. Marginalized artists and squashed creativity equals less progress for Ottawa and the rest Canada.

Anonymous said...

I find it astounding and I am amazed that in order to keep the city vital and culturally vibrant such struggles exist!
I am only on the outter-edge looking in, but feel for the artist, author and creative mind that must walk through the 'mud' in order to put something beautiful out to enrich the hearts and minds of others...

Dwight Williams said...

Unfortunately, our shared oxen are not the only ones getting gored this if that were ever truly the case. The transit services that many of us rely on to get any number of things related to our work done are also being targeted. Again. Seems to me that we might want to try for "common cause" networking here.

Stephen Rowntree said...

Poets, painters, writers, actors, those who Plato cautioned the Republic against, express (evoke) what is really going on in a society, and as such need to be quieted when a society is derelic in its duties.

There was a time, a wondrous time, when the humanities, the arts, music, etc were an important part of a society's life, the breath that kept it alive; now, I fear, they are seen as a threat, a plague, something to be feared. We live in a technological-time where the arts are valued as much as a nagging toothache.

Thanks for your unwavering support, voice and passion, Amanda.


Penny McCann said...

Thanks for the post, Amanda, and particularly for the list of cuts. We need to get the word out.

After much initial despair, the community is starting to rally. It won't be easy, as, like so many trained seals, we're being asked yet again to rise up and protest. Perhaps there'll be jobs for trained seals at the aquarium proposed for Lansdowne Park?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the specific list, Amanda! I'm going to be posting that as well, and I know Ottawa Festivals is going to be taking this one to the wall. But yes - it's exhausting having to constantly fight for survival on top of the sheer amount of work we have to do just to put out the events and magazines and resources and community that we put out. Exhausting, disheartening, and infuriating.

Jessica Ruano just pointed me at an article that actually puts some numbers on the economic effects of festivals - if you MUST speak these people's language to them, it's good to have the tools. Why we should have to defend ourselves by showing Return On Investment is an argument for another day though.