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City to announce proposed cuts to Toronto arts and culture

Pride Toronto, libraries, Riverdale Farm, Toronto Zoo and theatres all on the chopping block

Press secretary Adrienne Batra, budget committee chair Mike Del Grande and Mayor Rob Ford during the marathon meeting against cuts in July. Credit: Andrea Houston

UPDATE: Sept 16 – Toronto city council is divided and support for Mayor Rob Ford appears to be waning. Once again, the community is signing up for another marathon executive committee meeting in hopes of stopping the dizzying list of cuts to arts, culture and services.

If city manager Joe Pennachetti’s recommendations are accepted, major services and cultural organizations could be severely gutted. Up to 543 of the Toronto Arts Council’s 700 grants could be eliminated, including all of those under $10,000, cuts to the library system, Pride Toronto, HIV and harm reduction programs, eliminating late-night TTC buses, selling or closing the Toronto Zoo and Riverdale Farm, and reducing subsidized child care spaces. 

According to the Toronto Star, “If all of the recommendations were accepted, which appears unlikely, the city would save about $100 million in 2012 — not nearly enough to balance the budget.” That’s far less than the $774 million Ford has insisted the city needs to balance the books.

Some councilors, including those in the so-called “mushy middle,” have been expressed concern in mainstream and social media, saying Ford is going too far.

Activists are now getting their names on a list to depute to executive committee Sept 19. Councillors will vote to support or oppose these cuts at the Sept 26 council meeting.

Sept 12 – Once again, Pride Toronto (PT) is preparing for deep funding cuts. But this time they won’t be fighting city hall alone.

Toronto’s arts and culture community mobilized quickly this weekend to look at strategies to fight sweeping budget reductions. On Friday, PT co-chair Francisco Alvarez attended a summit attended by the leaders of 10 major Toronto arts and culture organizations. People aren’t panicking — yet. On Sept 12 the groups will hear how much the city is proposing to slash.

“There is a sense of demoralization,” Alvarez says. “They haven’t gone through what Pride has gone through. Ford said in his election campaign that he would not cut the arts, so they felt they were safe.”

PT is in danger of losing $123,807 of city funding, about 10 percent of its budget. “Here we go again. The difference is, this time, we’re not the only ones,” says Alvarez.

The proposal by city manager Joe Pennachetti, leaked to the Toronto Star on Sept 9, came as a surprise to many at a summit that morning. The proposal was prepared in response to a request from Mayor Rob Ford’s office. It would eliminate more than $6 million of annual funding that goes directly to the 10 top arts organizations.

The city may also cut funding to libraries, theatres and local zoos, including Riverdale Farm and the Toronto Zoo, reports the Toronto Sun

Alvarez says the report was supposed to be a 10 percent reduction scenario. “This is a disproportionately large scenario.”

“If it passes at executive council, people feel it very well could pass a vote at full council,” Alvarez says. “This is just the beginning of our strategy meetings.”

Groups immediately began rallying against the cuts. This was quickly followed by a Toronto Star report saying that the mayor’s office had announced it is developing a new plan to save the grants by ending the city’s role in managing arts grants, thereby saving on staff. Responsibility for distributing millions in funding would pass to the Toronto Arts Council.

Pennachetti and budget committee chair Mike Del Grande planned to hold a press conference Sept 12 at 10am at the Scarborough Civic Centre to outline the cuts suggested by consultant KPMG as part of the city’s “core service review.”

The threat is the latest this summer to come out of the mayor’s office, which has been warning of drastic cuts to hundreds of programs and services. 

“We can’t just be speaking about ourselves to stop cuts to the arts. We have to stand in solidarity with everybody facing cuts: AIDS organizations, social services, Toronto housing and everyone else,” Alvarez says. “We have to be leaders.

The report from the city manager will be presented at executive committee on Sept 19. From there, it goes to full council for a vote in January. Most of Pennachetti’s suggestions, if approved by the executive, will lead into 2012 budget deliberations.

Alvarez says he plans to make a deputation to the executive committee.

For many of the city’s big arts organizations, the majority of their budgets are salaries. “There’s not much to cut except jobs,” he says.

The arts organizations will hold a press conference Sept 15 at 10am at Roy Thomson Hall.

“I think a lot of answers will be made public at that time, all rolled up together,” Alvarez says. “We will have some stats on all our individual impacts, as well as collectively what that would mean in terms of jobs and programs and accessibility.”

Most arts organizations will be forced to cut programming, outreach and education programs. “These are things that bring in no revenue.”

The money has to come from somewhere, Alvarez says.

Festivals like Caribana and Pride are free events. Alvarez hopes that won’t have to change. “Do we make a decision to cut our entertainment program to one day or do we start ticketing to keep up the same level?”

“I think there’s this general feeling at city council that these are big organizations. They already have corporate sponsors. City funding can be replaced with corporate sponsorship. And that’s just not true.”

Alvarez says government funding “legitimizes the event and its importance” to the city.

“Everyone is already grasping for every last dollar that’s available from the banks and everyone else. And generally those funders only come on board after they see that there’s government support. They won’t fund an organization that doesn’t get any funding from the government.”

“We don’t believe that private corporations will fill the gap. In fact, it may reduce our current funding from corporations.”

As planning moves forward on WorldPride 2014, PT will be courting new sponsors, “people who don’t know us. They examine the organization they want to support. If they don’t see government support, they have less confidence in the organization’s viability and importance.”