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An Arts Advocacy Trilogy
Stephanie Vegh

The start of a new year is often a busy one for arts advocates across the country as governments at all levels work to develop their budgets, including their allocations for investing in arts and culture. With a new federal government in power and promising change, a provincial funding agency in dire financial need, and momentum to be maintained at the local level, it became readily apparent that the Hamilton Arts Council needed to score a hat trick on the advocacy front to encourage all three levels of government to make more resources available to the arts in Hamilton and other communities.

I was fortuante to receive an invitation from Filomena Tassi, MP for the new Hamilton riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, to participate in a pre-budget consultation session with François-Philippe Champagne, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. With a significant increase already projected for the Canada Council for the Arts, our remarks at that meeting included much positive reinforcement of the government's intentions for arts and culture, as well as calls to support job creation, adaptive reuse of industrial space, and an echo of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce's call for a national urban policy to support under-resourced municipalities. You can read the full text of our recommendations here.

A similar invitation received to participate in the Province of Ontario's pre-budget consultations with the Associate Minister of Finance, Mitzie Hunter, prompted a more concerned and focused response specific to the diminished funding capacity of the Ontario Arts Council. After a long period of receiving no funding increases from the Province, the OAC was forced last year to reduce all its granting envelopes by 5% in an effort to release some funds for the many emerging artists and organizations seeking support. While the rationale for these cuts was respectfully communicated to and sympathetically received by the arts community, we also recognize that such measures are not a sustainable solution to the provincial government's lack of attention to this critical part of Ontario's economy. Our call for increased support to the OAC can be read here.

As a community arts council, our greatest advocacy advocate rests in our local context and the City of Hamilton, where budget deliberations are currently underway (for an added dose of reality, I am writing this blog post from Council Chambers while observing discussions of budget enhancements). We have come into this year's budget process on the success of having secured $500,000 in new arts funding through the City Enrichment Fund in 2015 - the first of three phased increases proposed to increase the City's investment in the arts to $1 million by 2017. This year's recommended increase of $300,000, as well as a further $150,000 for additional City Enrichment Fund programs included Culture and Heritage, is included among the budget enhancements currently under discussion.

I presented the Hamilton Arts Council's favourable call for this increase during public delegations on February 9, which can be read in its entirety here. While the Mayor and members of Council warmly received this presentation, we will remain watchful during budget meetings of the General Issues Committee during which Council will be reviewing budget enhancements with a goal of either rejecting or advancing these funds through a process that is more colloquially understood as Budget Survivor.

Today is the first day of this process and we will be keeping our community updated on the fate of this year's City Enrichment Fund increase through Twitter, Facebook and email notices. Each of these meetings of Budget Survivor also present the opportunity for the arts community to observe in Council Chambers and show their visible support of increased arts investment - the calendar of Budget GIC meetings can be found here if you wish to show your support in person, which we have found does have a tangible impact on members of Council.

Advocacy is one of the most important roles we play as an arts council to ensure that Hamilton is the best possible city in which artists and their organizations can sustain creative activity in this city. You can continue to support this work and add your voice to our efforts by becoming a member of the Hamilton Arts Council or making a charitable donation.