Ontario Arts Council announces funding cuts as money dries up

logo_OACOn Thursday, November 27, two representatives of the Ontario Arts Council, Peter Caldwell, Director & CEO and Carolyn Vesely, Director of Granting, came to Peterborough’s Artspace to facilitate an information session concerning the Council’s new strategic blueprint for the years 2014-2020 entitled “Vital Arts and Public Value.”

Vesely and Caldwell began the evening with a presentation laying out the process of how this plan came to be, starting with an environmental scan in 2013 (a four page executive summary is available on their website).

The better portion of their talk focused on a five percent across the board reduction in grants.

In addition to helping cover a $1.6 million dollar budget short fall, the remainder of the savings (estimated at $1 million) will be divided into two different pools, one for emerging artists and arts organizations, and increases of five ten percent for recipients who are rated B+ or higher (with potential for a ten percent increase for recipients who are graded an ‘A’ by their peers and assessors).

These increases however, would only be available to grant recipients in the first year of their funding cycle.

When asked about where that put Artspace, Caldwell dropped the unfortunate news— Artspace, being in year 1 now, would not only have to take the 5 percent reduction that everyone else is facing, but would have to wait another two years for any further increase, testing facility’s already limited resources even further.

This reallocation is meant to help the OAC support new artists and prioritize funding in the face of the fact that the OAC has not received an increase in funding for more than 6 years, even as the number of applicants has grown 53 percent.

As Mr. Caldwell remarked, although the fact that the OAC has not received a budgetary increase might not seem like much to celebrate, of the 21 individual departments within the Ministry of Tourism, Culture And Sport, the Ontario Arts Council is the only one not to be cut.

Caldwell and Vesel also noted that in the past few years, cuts to meet the budget shortfalls had been delayed as a minority government on shaky political ground tried to put off cutting its one time budgetary supplements to avoid upsetting its supporters.

But that that wasn’t going to be the case anymore with government revenue being less than expected this year. The representatives of the OAC stressed the applicants would be tested by means of their ‘vitalism’ (reflected by the categories: relevance, impact, artistic merit, risk-taking and effectiveness) and that artists and organizations who failed to meet a B or higher would be subject to reductions in funding.

They maintained that the evaluations, made largely based on information gathered from peer-review, are necessary given that decisions are only going to get more difficult.

“‘Good enough’ is just not going to be good enough,” Caldwell said in reference to the fact that in addition to the five percent cut, some organizations would see money for operating budgets dry up if not meeting the standard.

“We don’t anticipate, and with very good reason to believe so, that we will see any future cuts to our budget from the government in the near future,” said Caldwell. “However, we also cannot see any budget increases in the near the future,” having first prefaced himself by saying “Obviously, we’re not going to have the money to do all the things we’d like.”

As a whole, the strategy is built along two main themes: ‘Foster the creation, production and presentation of art’ and fostering ‘participation in and appreciation of, the arts’. All in the wake of an industry changing to changing demographics, growing cultural diversity, the ascent of information technology and economic uncertainty.

The strategy also now included the “Deaf And Disabled” along with Aboriginal artists, artists of colour, francophone artists, new generation artists (artists age 18-30) and regional artists and arts organizations, which Caldwell jokingly said meant  ‘artists and arts organizations outside of Toronto.’

It was not the news anyone wanted to hear, however Caldwell did allude to a plan for a new funding sphere that would link the OAC’s mandate to the province’s general interests in economic growth and job creation. Details were few however, saying “We are only just starting to make our arguments now.”

When asked what people could due to support the OAC on the ground, Caldwell asked that local artists and their supporters get to know their MPPs and invite them out to events.
He also expressed some frustration, careful not to single out anyone or name any specific examples, with recipients not doing enough to feature the OAC’s logo at events and in promotional materials.

He said that while most organization acknowledge the fact that  the funding support, but argues that it sends the message to both local and provincial government representatives and to the OAC “that you don’t really value that funding, especially when corporate logos might be displayed in big banners and the Ontario Arts Council’s logo might be tucked away in the corner or almost hidden.

It’s not about glorifying, it’s about letting your audiences know that the funding is important you and to help people realize why arts funding matters by linking it to the actual experiences they have as a result of that support.”

All in all this will be difficult news for the arts community to take, unfortunately, however, this is the kind of news that it has has grown used to.