City council reinstates arts funding

Daniel MacEachern
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With members and supporters of the St. John’s art community filling council chambers’ public gallery — and spilling over into a nearby room — councillors reintstated funding for arts grants cut in last month’s budget.

“I think we’re doing the right thing by looking at the budget as it was presented and saying we’re willing to continue to consider how we support our community and make decisions as a council,” said Coun. Dave Lane before council unanimously voted to reinstate the funding.

When the city’s budget was introduced in December, the cuts to arts — council also axed its annual $20,000 in arts procurement — drew public criticism and protest, prompting Coun. Jonathan Galgay, chairman of the city’s finance committee, to announce he would ask council to reconsider the cut to grants.

Grants funding will be bumped back up to $200,000 instead of the $100,000 in December’s budget, with the money coming from reserve funds in the community grants funding program, held in reserve in case of special instances requiring funding outside the annual application process.

Filmmaker and playwright Ruth Lawrence said Monday night before the meeting that arts supporters turned out for the vote to show council they’re serious about the importance of arts funding.

“We really stand behind what we’ve said all along,” Lawrence said. “We’re not just going out, making one quick grandstand. We really have to fight for this, and we’re here until we get satisfaction that they understand and that, really, they’re going to put that kind of support behind us.”

Musician Phil Churchill said Monday he’s tired of having to convince people of the value of arts.

“I’m tired of having to beg for and convince people of things,” said Churchill, a member of folk trio The Once. “I’m at the point where, if you don’t get it, and it doesn’t make sense to you right away, you shouldn’t have this job and you don’t deserve it.”

I’m tired of having to beg for and convince people of things. I’m at the point where, if you don’t get it, and it doesn’t make sense to you right away, you shouldn’t have this job and you don’t deserve it. Phil Churchill, The Once

Churchill said he didn’t believe council’s reversal of the arts cuts signals a change in thinking by councillors on the importance of arts funding, adding it’s just “appeasement” in response to public criticism.

“I don’t need to be convinced of the need for communication, for transport, for health care, even oil in this country at this point, until people can move away from it. I don’t need to be convinced of these things,” he said. “Whenever you have a bunch of people who are holding the purse strings who need to be convinced of simple facts that everybody else seems to get, that’s where, to me, it ends. … If we need to convince you of this, you shouldn’t be in this position, and you should just bow out, and move aside for someone who’s a little more broadminded and able to figure this stuff out.”

Actor Pat Foran said the protests show most residents know the importance of arts to the St. John’s economy.

“The work that we create, be it in music, theatre, visual arts, helps to draw tourists and business here to the city,” Foran said. “An investment in the arts returns dollars directly to the municipality in the form of property taxes. Once you get that initial seed investment, whether it’s a band’s first album, an author’s novel, etc., the residual income off the act of creating a piece of art has a long lifetime. So the city benefits quite a bit from having professional artists here.”

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Recent comments

  • dan jeddore
    January 06, 2016 - 05:38

    some would say, give the extra money to the homeless and the hungry. however, the arts world is full of the kindest people in the world so with this, the homeless and the hungry will benefit in one way or another.

  • Ed
    January 05, 2016 - 11:03

    Here we go again. Never mind the taxpayers who ultimately have to come up with this money just as long as you appease the vocal minority who show up at city hall to insist that you give them our tax dollars for their pet projects. I can assure you that at the next city council election I will be vocal and I will be there to remind the taxpayers of this city why you idiots had to raise our taxes and what you members of council spend "their" money on. I can assure you that the residents of this city are smart enough to know what they want to do with their hard earned money and do not need you to tax it away from them to give away to the arts or any other group. Just who the hell do you think you are to decide you know better what to do with our incomes than we do. You should stick to providing municipal services, ones that the taxpayers say they need, at the lowest possible cost.

    • Resident
      January 05, 2016 - 16:06

      What an ugly, sad, cold, brutal existence you must have without art or music or writing in your life. I pay over $2600 a year property taxes and if .5% goes to the arts, I'm just fine with that. I believe most citizens would be ok with it too.

  • Christopher
    January 05, 2016 - 10:20

    In response to Jayne, DO NOT use my tax dollars for the likes of Ruth Lawrence and the rest of her ilk.

  • Tom
    January 05, 2016 - 09:30

    Why do the arts need funding? Why can't they survive on there own? If they are good enough they should be able to sell enough tickets to there event to pay the bills and make a profit, if not fail and try again or move to a different field. No private investors out there wanting to make money? The problem with this grant is that no talent people use it for crap. Like the garbage doll thing a couple of months ago. The "artist", used very lightly, managed to get the city to give her a grant for dumpster diving to place garbage on a walking trail. Nobody but her could call it art. And before you go off on sjse and its grant, it is not a cheque given directly to the ice caps, it is a reduction in rent. The city has been some how fooled into believing the caps will go if they don't give them cheap rent. Shag them. They will just up the ticket prices again, but if they do go, the cost to moth ball the arena will be in excess of 3 million a year without the anchor tenant.

    • Devon Rowe
      January 05, 2016 - 10:24

      Because the arts are not merely a business. Every civilised part of the world supports the arts and culture. Those that don't, become backwaters of commercial monotomy where so-called artists create to appeal to the pop culture and to the bottom line. St. John's is already pretty miserly when it comes to arts funing, but I guess the cost of a carton of milk is too much for you.

    • Sandra
      January 05, 2016 - 11:41

      You could say the same things about parks -- Why not sell them off? They make no money and suck dollars out of hard working taxpayers. Same thing for arenas,m community centres, and sports fields.

    • Colin
      January 05, 2016 - 12:36

      Tom: I'm just going to respond to the first part of your post. Artists need these municipal grants as seed money. They need these grants so that they can begin to work on a project. They need these grants so that they can afford to get to the point that they can sell tickets and, as you put it, (if they're any good) make money. I'm going to replace the word "good" with professional from here on out. A professional musician needs to write and rehearse their songs before they play them live and or record them. They will need seed money in some form or another to get a jump on the recording process. Look at the liner notes of some of your favourite local albums. Even the ones who hit the "big time" had municipal and government funding early on. Most of these bands that represent our city, province, and culture around the world are still unable to simply withdraw the thousands it takes to record an album from their account without the seed money to help them get things off the ground. A professional play at the LSPU Hall or Arts and Culture Centre requires a mind-boggling amount of preparation that is constantly over looked. First, if it's an original work, the play has to be written. Seed money is required for the play write to tell their story and develop their script. Once that is finished and the show is cast, then there is a two or three week rehearsal process whereby the actors, stage managers, directors, lighting designers, sound designers, board operators, costume designers, technicians, etc work at least 8 hours a day to make the show ready for the stage. That is three weeks of full time work for a lot of people and no tickets have been sold yet. Seed money and investment is required. The same applies to all the various art forms, I've just chosen these two examples as I'm more qualified to speak to them. Simply put, your favourite bands, tv shows, movies, plays, paintings and prints all came from an idea. That idea needed seed money before it could take the first step toward having a life. You can't sell a ticket to a show that you can't afford to rehearse. At the end of the day the return on the investment pays dividends. Look at the exposure tv shows like Republic of Doyle has given the province and the city. Great Big Sea, The Once, Hey Rosetta!, and the late Ron Hynes are internationally known artists that continually do us proud and promote us everywhere they go. There is a movie and a miniseries being shot in St John's as we speak, bringing money into the local economy. When July rolls around and the cruise ships pull up the downtown will be flooded with people who are looking to take in some of the vibrant arts scene they've heard so much about. Without the seed money there are no dancers, crafters, sculptors and painters. No musicians and actors to make us proud when we hear them on national radio, and no actors on stage or tv to make us laugh and smile and proudly say, "he's from here, ya know!" That's why even professional artists need seed funding.

  • Bob
    January 05, 2016 - 07:37

    While I recognize the value of the arts community to this city, I also know that while council may say its a matter of 'moving money over' from another area, this move will have an impact on other groups seeking funding. Non profits, rec centers, sports groups, etc. all of which hold an equal value to the citizens, will have a more difficult time securing future funding from the city as a result of this action. I hope the members of the arts community are as vocal in the support of these groups when their funding applications are denied. As the old adage goes, "you can't rob Peter to pay Paul!"

  • Jayne
    January 04, 2016 - 22:18

    Thank YOU Phil Churchill for saying what many of us believe, unfortunately its not just the arts, its about the entire budget and Council's lack of vision. We need Responsible, Accountable, Experienced Business & Arts minded people, to represent the interests of taxpayers, not just use us as a scapegoat for when they overspend. COUNCIL: Do NOT use my taxes to support Hockey at Mile One, something the majority of taxpayers don't partake in. Do NOT use my taxes to purchase 20 acres of Land from the former Premier, which was obtained for very little. Shame on you. Cut back on Travel, Staff, Extras when times are rough, tighten the purses. Don't inflict the City's overspending on the taxpayers.