Many members of Hamilton’s artistic community, myself included, had a long day at City Hall this past Wednesday for deliberations and eventual approval of the City’s proposed new City Enrichment Fund, which included a draft framework for a new arts investment strategy developed over the past six months by the joint efforts of the City's Tourism and Culture Division and Finance Department. This is the result of four years of hard work by the Arts Advisory Commission and their Arts Funding Task Force to develop a transparent and equitable arts investment strategy that increases financial support for the arts in Hamilton and introduces new processes for the distribution of grants.
While the AFTF introduced an initial recommendation of an addition $1 million in arts funding at their presentation a year ago, the report presented to Council on Wednesday recommended a phased increase over three years to reach this goal, starting with $500,000 in 2015, $300,000 in 2016 and $200,000 in 2017. While a three-year plan to reach this additional $1million in funding is praiseworthy and strategically smart in an election year, these gradual increases will, for some years at least, be insufficient to serve the needs of the arts community or to fully implement the proposed arts investment programs. The deplorable state of arts funding in Hamilton remains dire relative to the growth of its arts community due to stagnation in funding since the turn of the century - adjusting for inflation over this time period alone would have required an additional $1 million just to preserve the value of arts investment since 2000.
Difficult though it may be to secure a dramatic increase in arts funding, John Hertel wisely recommended that the recommendation be considered in two parts - the model, and the money. Receiving Council's approval of the funding model in principle, even if the money to implement it isn't yet in place, creates essential groundwork for the ongoing pursuit of funding increases in future years.
Briefly stated, the City Enrichment Fund consolidates grants currently distributed through the Community Partnership Program, Boards & Agencies, and various other municipal sources as a streamlined system that includes the Arts Investment Program as its own category alongside Communities, Culture and Heritage; Community Services; Sports and Recreation; and a new category for Agriculture and Environment. This overhaul of the CPP program as a whole is dramatic enough to warrant its own discussion; however, for now we'll focus on the key implications of the Arts Investment Program, through which activities and organizations with artistic excellence as their primary mandate will be funded (those for which the arts are used as community enrichment may find themselves in that Communities, Culture and Heritage category instead).
The staff recommendation approved by Council for further staff development (which will include a 30-day public input period in July 2014) preserves all eight funding streams proposed by the Arts Funding Task Force, even if funds are not necessarily in place to fund all categories. Operating Grants for Arts Organizations and Arts Festivals will be the first priority to maintain supports already in place via CPP and Boards & Agencies, with Capacity Building and Creation/Presentation Grants for Individual Artists likely to follow on the priority list.
You can read the full program description here (link goes to a PDF on the City of Hamilton website), but in the interests of providing some key highlights (which may or may not be subject to change as development continues):
- Operational grants for Arts Organizations and Arts Festivals will be assessed in two categories: Emerging and Established, with additional sub-divisions for Professional and Semi-Professional organizations in the Arts Organizations stream (creating categories for Emerging Professional, Established Professional, Emerging Semi-Professional and Established Semi-Professional)
- Both Professional and Semi-Professional Organizations are defined as those that pursue standards of excellence in their artistic discipline and are led by arts professionals; the distinction lies in whether arts professionals working with the organizations are consistently paid or not (“paid” vs. “generally not paid”)
- Established organizations (defined as those operating for five years or more) would be eligible to apply for multi-year grants
- Operating Grants for Arts Organizations would be capped at 30% of operating budgets, with dollar maximums set for Emerging organizations ($30,000 for Emerging Professional Organizations, $10,000 for Emerging Semi-Professional Organizations); there is no maximum dollar amount applicable to Established organizations at either the Professional or Semi-Professional level
- Arts Festivals operating grants are capped at $10,000 for Emerging Arts Festivals, and $100,000 for Established Arts Festivals
- CADAC Financials and Statistical Data will be required for organizations with operating budgets of$300,000 or higher; a standard form is available for organizations operating below $300,000
- Assessment citeria for Arts Organizations is based on Organizational Viability, Cultural Impact, Economic Impact, and Social Impact
- Assessment criteria for Arts Festivals is based on Artistic Vision, City-wide Impact, Viability and Economic Impact
- Capacity Building grants (which will not be implemented until additional arts funding is secured) would only be available to those receiving funding through another Arts Investment Program stream; these grants have a maximum value of $25,000 with collaborative applications between two or more organizations encouraged
- Creation and Presentation Grants (which will not be implemented until additional arts funding is secured) are available to individual artists and collectives at Emerging ($5000) and Established ($10,000) levels; for the purposes of this program, an Emerging artist is one who has geneerally been practising professional for seven years or less
- Innovation Grants to support new artistic initiatives with a maximum grant of $25,000 would be made available to individuals, collectives, incorporated not-for-profits and arts businesses
- Peer assessment is recommended as part of the decision-making process of Arts Organizations, Arts Festivals and individual artist grants
For the time being, a unanimous approval from Council to move forward with implementation of the City Enrichment Fund is cause for celebration, and the decision to prioritize operational grants for organizations pending additional funding helps ensure that arts organizations are not destabalized during this transition. Core stability for Hamilton's arts infrastructure must be the first priority, with funding decisions made through a fair process rather than the radical redistribution of funds. This arts community has already been destabilized by the lack of transparency and fairness that has plagued our granting programs, and any strategic arts funding decisions moving forward must aim to support and unify the arts sector rather than create further rifts.
Many thanks are owed to Tim Potocic of Sonic Unyon, Svava Thordis Juliusson of Hamilton Artists Inc., Vitek Wincza of the Hamilton Conservatory of the Arts, and Carl Turkstra of the Incite Foundation for the Arts speaking on behalf of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Boris Brott Music Festival, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and Theatre Aquarius for appearing as delegates during this important meeting of GIC. The community consensus expressed by all these representatives was our strongest support in favour of adopting this new funding model, and may well be needed again when a more detailed model is brought back to Council in September 2014.
As ever, we'll be keeping you updated on the status of this new Arts Investment Program as it develops; you can also keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter (the latter will reveal a flurry of live-action updates from Wednesday's meeting) for ongoing updates.