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.”
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.”