Ottawa
2 min

City hacks away arts funding

"We're not even sure how we can survive."

RABBLE ROUSERS. Former city councillor Alex Munter officiates at a raucous rally outside city hall on Mar 4. Credit: Capital Xtra files

Cuts to city arts funding could mean less queer content-and less content, period-in local galleries like the Saw Gallery.



The proposed cuts mean that an exhibit by queer artist Tobaron Waxman is “up in the air,” according to Saw Gallery administrative director Laura Margita. The gallery faces a 25 percent cut in operational funding if the city enacts proposed cuts to arts funding.



“We’re not even sure how we can survive. We can’t run with less employees,” says Margita.



The cuts – which could be approved by city council on Mar 24 – would see the city’s estimated $3.89 per capita funding fall to only 57 cents per capita in 2004. By comparison, Calgary, a city of similar size, invested $6.56 per capita.



According to Margita, reduced programming would be the most visible effect. Saw would probably have 10 fewer shows by artists each year and might not be able to bring artists in from out of town. Waxman, for example, is a Toronto artist who lives in New York.



Reduced programming would mean less queer content in the space. Margita explains that although there is “no specific show on gay and lesbian identity, we always, always, always have a gay artist in almost every show.”



Local artist Carl Stewart says the impact of cuts will be felt by gay and lesbian artists and other artists alike, but agrees that places like Saw Gallery and Gallery 101 play a particularly important role for queer artists.



“Traditionally,” says Stewart, “I think places like Saw Gallery and Gallery 101 have been a real venue for queer artists to show in, because maybe the work that they do is a little more challenging and not as accessible to a mainstream audience. Those types of spaces are really vital. So cuts to places like that would have a huge, huge impact.”



The cuts could also affect gay and lesbian events that use Club Saw – a presentation space subsidized jointly by Saw Gallery and Saw Video that is made available to the community at a subsidized rent or for free.



And the cuts won’t only affect art galleries, they could affect the whole city.



“I think actually the importance of any art space is that it contributes to all of the things that make a city worth living in,” says Stewart. “It contributes to a quality of life -not just as an artist. As someone in a city, you want there to be things for you to go out and see.”



City councillor Diane Holmes who chairs the committee on Health, Recreation and Social Services – the committee responsible for decisions related to arts – agrees. She will be encouraging other members of council not to cut arts and culture funding. She says the municipality has a responsibility to encourage the arts.



“Our local artists provide an enormous return in terms of quality of life and they receive very little for the important work that they do,” says Holmes. “We have to provide opportunities for our local artists.”