Local readers of The Hamilton Spectator may have already read my commentary in today’s edition on the necessity of seeing a sustainable and transparent arts funding model emerge from City Hall. The timing of these observations were not without consequence, falling fast in between Jeff Mahoney's spotlight on this issue last week and the anticipation of a report due at General Issues Committee on December 4 to respond to the recommended arts investment model presented to Council by the Arts Funding Task Force on June 5.
Artists and observers awaiting for this report are in for a major disappointment. As the information report submitted to GIC will confirm, there are no recommendations coming forward for Council’s consideration – only a thin page and a half to account for explorations made and barriers encountered within a frustrating municipal process.
It has been six months since Council directed the Planning & Economic Development Department – and more specifically, Tourism & Culture staff – to deliver options for funding and implementing the proposed arts investment model. Given that this strategic direction includes the much-needed addition of $1 million into the City’s current arts funding portfolio, receiving a staff recommendation in advance of 2014 budget deliberations was a matter of urgency – so much so that a report was originally slated for September, before being revised to the current report date.
So what has gone wrong? The information report at hand is succinct, but points to two key factors:
- The review of existing Community Partnership Program grants administered by the Grants Sub-Committee of Corporate Services and Finances has not yet been begun, much less finished in time to inform recommendations for a new arts funding model
- Tourism & Culture has approached the Hamilton Community Foundation to establish an arts endowment fund that is still under discussion
There are two frustrations contained in this report, the most obvious being the extent to which the delay in the CPP review by the Grants Sub-Committee has brought any progressive change in arts funding to a grinding halt. The original terms of reference for this review, dating back to 2011, were tabled in 2012 to await the results of an internal audit that was presented to Council in May 2013. Since then, the approval of revised terms of reference for that long-delayed CPP review has been deferred twice over and is no longer expected any sooner than the first quarter of 2014.
It’s easy to empathize with the impossible task that staff in Tourism & Culture faced in returning any meaningful movement forward in the face of such glacial progress at the Grants Sub-Committee. Conversely, such impediments were surely known by staff working on this file, which only begs further questions. What other work could have been done to develop alternate delivery models while waiting on the CPP review? Are there short-term solutions that could have been implemented to support the arts community pending reform on a larger scale?
The arts endowment conversation with the Hamilton Community Foundation is a potential piece of that solution, and a very exciting one if it comes to fruition. As the only piece of the solution to have been explored by Tourism & Culture to date, however, it comes as a disappointment. When a key rationale behind the work of the Arts Funding Task Force is the fact that Hamilton’s municipal investment in the arts is lagging embarrassingly behind that of comparable Canadian cities, asking HCF to leverage its philanthropic base in the private sector avoids the necessity of increasing support from the City itself. That direct investment in Hamilton’s arts ecosystem beyond $3.08 per capita is what’s required to answer the call of the proposed arts funding model, of the City’s newly-adopted Cultural Plan, of countless artists and organizations who have already given to Hamilton's growth with resources beyond measure.
To push straight to the heart of the matter, I’ll quote from my own words:
Until our civic leadership delivers a plan that answers the arts community's good faith in Hamilton's future, we remain an arts community held in stasis between a broken system and a hope that is laced with fear of the unknown.
In the absence of that plan, we can only hope that December 4 is the opportunity instead to learn when we can expect the report that is owed to everyone who has contributed to this years-long journey. Without that pledge to make this work a civic priority, that good faith becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.
Arts Engagement Tip: To watch what happens at December 4 GIC, I heartily recommend Joey Coleman's Livestream for live coverage of Council meetings and archived recordings after the fact.