This past Wednesday June 5 was a significant day in the ongoing work of creating new arts funding opportunities for Hamilton with the presentation of the Arts Funding Task Force’s recommendations to the General Issues Committee. We have previously covered these recommendations when they were shared at a public consultation on January 28 – you can read Stephen Near’s report in our earlier blog entry here, or read the report in its entirety at the City of Hamilton’s website (PDF).
Supported by ten delegations from numerous artists and arts administrators (myself included), seven letters of support submitted to GIC in advance of the meeting, and ever-inspiring opening remarks from Dr. Eddie Friel, the Arts Funding Task Force built an irrefutable case for an new arts investment model that favours accessibility, transparent processes and ongoing evaluation to ensure that funds are spent strategically to the benefit of not only artists but the wider community. Central to this new model are eight new programs to address gaps in current funding opportunities (none of which support individual artists or arts organizations not registered as not-for-profits) and peer review to assess grants awarded on the basis of artistic merit.
The Compromise Motion
The goal of the Arts Funding Task Force’s presentation was to seek approval for a series of recommendations to accept the proposed model in principle and direct Tourism & Culture staff to identify revenue sources for the additional funding as well as take lead responsibility for the development of the program and its evaluation. In part, the motion approved at GIC to defer the recommendations to staff to investigate funding and governance implications still allows these goals to be met. However, without clear approval of the core principles from Council, these recommendations are increasingly in need of demonstrated public support of the sort we’ve already seen so passionately displayed in eloquent letters, compelling speeches at GIC and the number of artists who came to City Hall on Wednesday to witness the presentation and debate through what proved to be a long and daunting afternoon.
Time is also a factor, as Tourism & Culture staff will need to consult with Governance and Grants Sub-Committees as part of their work to report back to GIC before 2014 budget decisions are underway in September.
The Case for Additional Funding
The result of over three years of volunteer-driven research and consultation into Hamilton’s current arts funding practices and funding models found in similar Canadian cities, the plans laid out in Strategic Municipal Investment in the Arts propose an additional $1,026,436 in funding to support the $1,898,564 currently spent across the City’s various funding opportunities for the arts to create a total annual investment of $2,925,000 to be distributed through a new structure of eight programs offering grants and services to individual arts professionals, arts organizations and arts entrepreneurs. There is substantial research from Hill Strategies to indicate that the existing amounts of funding for the arts is appallingly low for a city of Hamilton’s scale – only $3.08 per capita is spent on arts and culture in Hamilton compared to an average of $5.35 spent by seven cities of comparable size such as Ottawa, London, Windsor, Waterloo region and Winnipeg.
The argument in favour of additional arts funding is economically sound given the solid economic evidence of the high return on investment that results from funding the arts, to say nothing of the wider benefits for thriving and engaged communities. Elevating Hamilton’s investment in the arts to meet the standards set by similar cities is a necessary step in our civic growth. In the face of clear evidence that Hamilton’s arts sector is profoundly underfunded, only a few Councillors voiced opposition to funding increase being discussed, even if empathy for the overwhelming poverty experienced by the average Canadian artist was sometimes alarmingly absent. The anecdotal success of a scarce 1% category of working artists does not excuse the struggles of the vast majority who struggle to find paid work in their field, a fact embraced by the very mandate of the Arts Funding Task Force to seek a solution that leaves no one behind and elevates the condition of all artists, not a select few.
Why Peer Assessment is Essential to Successful Investment
What yielded far greater resistance was the concept of peer assessment as a governance model for arts funding. While placing decisions on grants awarded for artistic merit in the hands of arts professionals is a self-evident gold standard for funding programs around the world, it quickly became apparent that the concept was a point of alarm for some Councillors at the table, demonstrating a need for further education on this point.
Peer assessment by arts professionals is not a new concept in municipal arts funding – it is the governance model of choice of many cities, including but not remotely limited to Toronto, London, Waterloo region and Winnipeg. To a certain extent, Hamilton already places certain arts funding decisions in the hands of arts professionals when juries are convened to select public art commissions and declare recipients of the City of Hamilton Arts Awards. Both these programs have embraced the notion that arts professionals are valuable partners to Tourism & Culture staff when funds are to be allocated to artists on the basis of their artistic merit. To have arts granting decisions made by government bodies alone not only undermines the professionalism of artists and their organizations, but creates ominous conditions for creative censorship that should not be tolerated by any free society.
The Challenge Ahead
While Tourism & Culture do their work to deliver their own report and recommendations to GIC in the near future, the arts community and its countless supporters still have opportunity to reach out to Councillors and lend their vocal support to the new arts investment model. You can still join your fellow artists and citizens in writing to your Ward Councillor to let them know why this new funding strategy is both overdue and necessary. Your support is especially crucial if you happen to reside in one of Hamilton’s mountain or rural wards – we know that artists and their supporters work and live in all parts of our city, and it’s essential that Councillors know that you count among their taxpayers.
The Hamilton Arts Council will continue to work throughout the summer to add our voice to yours and ensure you remain updated on any updates in this process in the coming months. The broken funding system that has hampered Hamilton’s arts community remains one of the greatest challenges our artist's face, and working towards a model that leaves nobody behind is one of our key priorities.
For those who weren’t able to attend Wednesday’s GIC meeting – or equally likely, unable to stay for the duration after an unannounced stakeholder’s meeting – you can view the entire proceedings thanks to Joey Coleman’s ever-valuable Livestream recording.
Want to write a letter to your Councillor but not sure how to begin? The seven excellent letters written by artists and administrators so far are a good place to get some inspiration. Note all links go to PDF documents on the City of Hamilton website: