In what is becoming an annual tradition, the City of Ottawa tabled a draft budget earlier this month that proposed $4 million in arts cuts and the eradication of festival funding.
On Nov 18, a coalition of arts groups hosted a press conference to denounce the proposal. Christine Tremblay of Arts Ottawa East warned that cuts of this scale would have a “perilous domino effect.”
“They’re deep,” she says. “And they’re divisive.”
Julian Armour is the head of a network of Ottawa festivals. For every dollar invested, festivals can raise an additional 21 dollars, he says.
“It’s not like putting money through a paper shredder,” he says. “It’s money well invested.”
Peter Honeywell, the director of the Council for the Arts in Ottawa, spoke to the standing-room-only crowd. He says arts groups will join with social services, poverty groups, environmentalists, unions and housing advocates on Dec 1, the beginning of public consultations.
“I want to fill this chamber and I want to fill Jean Piggott Hall,” he says.
The city gives Capital Pride about $15,000 a year, money that is used to pay for city services such as police and ambulance services at the parade. Alan Chaffe, the newly elected chair of Capital Pride, and several board members were on hand.
Pride’s money is on the chopping block, as is funding for the Ottawa International Writers Festival, which has hosted Transgress for the last three years. The Fringe Festival, Bluesfest and the Ottawa Folk Festival have all received municipal bucks, as has SAW Gallery.
The budget also includes cuts to social services and an overall tax increase of 4.9 percent. Typically, the city’s draft budget — put together by senior staff — is denounced by city councillors, who then look for other ways to save money.
In 2008 budget talks, arts funding was not the subject of extended debate, but in 2007 councillors heard from dozens of groups defending the programs. That followed a sustained campaign in 2004, after funding was threatened.
Ottawa ranks last out of Canada’s seven largest cities in per-capita municipal arts funding. The city also ranks last in provincial funding for the arts and second last in Canada Council grants.