Thursday, January 24, 2013

A letter to our Mayor and Council

Dear Mayor Lehman and Council, 

Please accept this letter in response to the amendment made on Monday January 21, 2013 to cut $50,000 from the City’s Cultural Grants program.  I ask that Council please consider the impact this type of cut would have on the local economy and arts community.  To illustrate this, I will share with you my personal experience as a resident of Barrie and recipient of funding from the Cultural Grants program.

I will be completely honest … I was once a reluctant resident of Barrie.  In 2007, I relocated to Barrie as the middle ground.  My husband was commuting farther north for work, and I had resolved to continue my career in the arts by commuting to Toronto.  

After two years of commuting, I felt disconnected to both Barrie and Toronto as communities. I was exhausted, frustrated, and ready to make a major change.  I could have decided to quit my arts practice. I could have decided to move back to Toronto. Instead, I resolved to make a life where I was living, to find a way to practice my art here in Barrie.

The timing of this personal resolution serendipitously fell into step with the City of Barrie’s Cultural Grants applications for 2009.  So I applied for a project grant to start a local professional dance ensemble, Simcoe Contemporary Dancers, and we animated the streets of Barrie that summer with our inaugural site-specific project. 

That initial funding helped to create the space and framework to have an artistic practice in the community. The creation of Simcoe Contemporary Dancers has provided me with the tools, assets and connections to individuals to continue to hone my craft as a teacher, choreographer, performer and arts manager. Through our various activities, we have also helped to employ other local professional dancers, choreographers, photographers, composers, costume designers and musicians.

Fast-forward to 2013, and we are now incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. We have benefited not only from cultural grants but also from the City’s investment in arts community’s development through the Department of Culture’s workshops on grant writing, strategic planning, board governance etc. This past season, an operating project helped us to navigate both organizational and artistic transitions which have lead us to pursue long-term sustainability via succession planning and continued strategic planning.

The initial reluctance I had towards Barrie has turned into an impassioned resolve to continue to contribute and help shape our vibrant arts community. 

The Cultural Grant program has been instrumental in the creation and continued success of Simcoe Contemporary Dancers.   We have represented our community at events such as Dance in Dundas Square (Toronto), The Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival, and most recently on the stage of the Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront (Toronto) as part of Dance Ontario’s Dance Weekend. My involvement at the helm of this organization has lead to speaking engagements at regional and national conferences such as Dance Ontario’s Connecting the Dots conference and The Dancer Transition Resource Centre’s On the Move conference. 

I am proud to represent Barrie in these ways. I speak with pride that I live and can work in a city that values arts and culture through its policies and actions. 

I understand that the budget process for a municipality must be extremely challenging. I do not doubt that there have been concessions across the board.  But as I pointed out to Councilor Jackson in a phone conversation on Wednesday, it is an issue of cash flow.  The City will see the money return to them in other ways.  Again speaking from personal experience, if I had not received the initial funding to establish my arts practice here in Barrie, I likely would not have bought a home and put down roots here (contributing to property taxes, etc.). I would not have purchased a recreation fitness pass to use for cross training, or be a client for other City of Barrie services.  So if the City will see the money back in other forms, why not continue to invest in the artists that help to animate the community in the meantime?  

Perhaps the term “creative economy” has simply fallen out of fashion, but it has been shown time and again that investing in maintaining a healthy arts and culture sector is wise investment. The arts and culture sector on a national level contributes to 7.4% of Canada’s real GDP.  The cultural sector generated $25 billion in taxes for all levels of government in 2007, which is more than three times higher than the $7.9 billion that was spent on culture by all levels of government in 2007. (Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy, Conference Board of Canada 2008) Woody Dumas, former Mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been quoted as saying “The arts are the best insurance policy a city can take on itself.”

Municipal funding is one piece of what helps artists and arts organizations move forward. The support of a city to back a portion of one’s arts practice, as has been my experience, can help to raise an artist’s profile and thus help to secure other funds and awards from other levels of government and foundations, as well as attract sponsors, volunteers, and new clientele.  And the resulting success can only help to raise the profile of the City which supports the artist.  I truly hope you will reconsider the proposed $50,000 cut to the Cultural Grants program. It may not seem like a large sum of money, but if we are to look to the statistics above, the positive impact of the continued level of funding will be felt threefold.


Sarah Lochhead

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