Arts funding spared from cuts by Calgary city council

Calgary City Hall. Global News

Calgary city council continues working on approving next year’s budget and a four-year business plan. An attempt to cut the increase in arts funding failed, however an increase in service funding for the Calgary Public Library was taken off the books.

READ MORE: New central library in Calgary is on time and on budget: CMLC

There was an attempt to cut five per cent of the total funding for the arts but that failed, as did a couple of attempts to limit the increase in funding to the Calgary Arts Development Authority.

Proponents like Councillor Jyoti Gondek mentioned how valuable a thriving arts scene can be as an economic driver to sell businesses on locating in Calgary.

“If we start cutting an area that we actually stand a chance to grow from an economic perspective, I don’t know why we’re even bothering with having an economic strategy,” she said.

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It’s said the increase in funding will bring Calgary from being the lowest municipal contributor to the arts in Canada to second lowest.

READ MORE: Creative Calgary calls for $20M per year in funding for the arts

CADA president Patti Pon says the private sector has been extremely generous in its support but they have told her the level has dropped because of the economic downturn.

“We’ll still be there for you, we just can’t be there to the degree that we have been in the past,” she shared.

“In the past, the cornerstone groups like the CPO and Theatre Calgary, 35 cents out of every dollar came from the private sector, came through sponsorship.”

READ MORE: Corporate funds for Calgary arts drying up

Councillor George Chahal said he appreciates the importance of the arts and that’s why he wanted to limit the increase and not cut funding entirely.

“I think next year there will be an opportunity to come back and say: ‘Is there a need for more?’ but right now we have a number of financial challenges with high unemployment and we have to be extremely prudent in how we spend every dollar.”

Funding for CADA is being increased from $6.4 million in 2018 to $11.4 million in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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READ MORE: $2M in funding for 10 Calgary arts groups will ‘put wind under our wings’

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says going after that $5 million will have little impact on the overall city budget and said the arts are an easy target for critics.

“It’s an easy one because it’s easy to talk about those elitists and what they get, not realizing what an important part of economic development it is.”

When it comes to the public library budget, an increase in service levels has been taken out of the budget: $1 million in 2019 and another $1.8 million over the following three years.

Councillor Druh Farrell believes that could result in fewer hours of service.

“We’d have to look at closing branches early, that sort of thing. That’s what we’ve done in the past is change the hours of operation. I would look to see the libraries, especially the busy ones, open later so that more and more people could use them.

City council is dealing with a budget that has an indicative property tax increase of 3.45 per cent next year and three per cent in each of the next three years after that.

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