Ford government cuts funding to Ontario Arts Council, impacting Indigenous Culture Fund

A woman surveys the painting "Copper Thunderbird" by Norval Morrisseau on display during a media tour of the National Gallery of Canada's Canadian and Indigenous Galleries featuring Canadian and Indigenous Art: From Time Immemorial to 1967 in Ottawa, Wednesday, June 7, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The Ontario government has slashed base funding to the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) by $5 million, as well as more than $2 million to the Indigenous Culture Fund.

The agency that gives grants and services to Ontario-based artists and arts organizations said base funding for 2018-19 will drop from $69.9 million to the 2017-18 level of $64.9 million.

Ontario NDP culture critic Jill Andrew said the cuts include suspending the Indigenous Culture Fund at a cost of $2.25 million, an initiative set up a year ago to support cultural activities and programming in Indigenous communities.

“The government’s cut of $2.25 million to the Indigenous Culture Fund at the Ontario Arts Council is a disturbing step back from the TRC’s Calls to Action,” Andrew said in a tweet.

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“This and the $5 million cut to @ONArtsCouncil’s base funding is an alarming attack on arts and culture.”

The Indigenous Culture Fund was set up by the previous Liberal government in 2017 with an investment of $5 million annually.

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The fund was part of the province’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

“Doug Ford’s cuts will cause the layoff of Indigenous staff, immediate cuts to granting budgets, and a significant cut to arts and cultural programming,” Andrew said in a media release on Friday.

“The cuts at the Ontario Arts Council come as part of Mr. Ford’s broader claw backs in Indigenous education and cultural programming and funding in Ontario, such as the cancellation of the Indigenous curriculum writing session earlier this summer. These shameful cuts impact the lives of Indigenous children, youth and elders.”

The OAC currently gets around $60 million a year from the province. By 2021 that was supposed to increase to $80 million.

A spokesperson for Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Tibollo said in a statement the government is reviewing the fund “to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly and efficiently.”

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“Individuals who have already received grants through the ICF will not be affected during this review. The OAC currently supports Indigenous artists through a number of grant programs

“Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government’s wasteful and irresponsible handling of the province’s finances has left us with a $15 billion deficit, and has forced us to make tough decisions,” Brett Weltman wrote.

He said people who received grants will not be affected by the review. Weltman said there are seven grant programs available for artists through the Ontario Arts Council.

“Professional artists and arts organizations play an important role in building a strong, prosperous economy while making valuable contributions to the quality-of-life in our province’s communities,” he said.

“That’s why our government will continue to invest in the Ontario Arts Council at the 2017-18 level of $64.9 million.”

— With files from Nick Westoll and The Canadian Press

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