The Ford government says it will maintain its $60-million in base funding for the Ontario Arts Council in next week’s budget but will not renew about $5-million in one-time grants for the culture sector, after some arts organizations warned this week that any cuts to the OAC would be devastating amid pandemic recovery efforts.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy is set to deliver the provincial budget next Thursday. His office confirmed its funding plans for the council after The Globe and Mail began making inquiries this week to arts organizations about public comments some had made about a possible 15-per-cent – or $10-million – cut to last year’s $65-million funding envelope.
Toronto MPP Jill Andrew, a New Democrat, had also recently launched a petition asking the government to keep funding stable after hearing such fears from arts groups.
The OAC offers grants and services for artists and organizations across disciplines, including dance, literature, theatre, music and Indigenous arts. Artists across the world saw their incomes dry up during the lockdowns of the pandemic, and some members of the public remain hesitant to visit galleries, theatres and concerts.
In February, the OAC said it had given out a number of one-time grants or grant increases this fiscal year for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; to Indigenous arts organizations and other marginalized or minority groups; and for innovative artistic approaches. These grants, which the OAC said brought the provincial funding total to $65-million, were widely welcomed at a precarious moment for the sector.
As such, some in the sector say the end of the grants amounts to a funding cut.
“This kind of cut is so destructive as we’re emerging from COVID,” said Jacoba Knaapen, executive director of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts. “We need to find a way to work together with the province so that we can prevent these kinds of cuts from happening in the future – and these kinds of surprises. The current process isn’t acceptable.”
Jason Samilski, managing director of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC) Ontario, the visual-and-media artists’ association, said he hopes the government “realizes the lucrative economic impacts and the return on its arts investments.”
Statistics Canada said in 2020 that the arts and culture sector contributes $27-billion, or 3.4 per cent, of Ontario’s gross domestic product. As such, Mr. Samilski said, “if Ontario would like to remain competitive with its arts and culture community … we do need to see some more serious investments in our sector.”
Beyond the end of those grants, simply maintaining the OAC’s baseline funding year-to-year would also mean less money in real terms in an era of high inflation. Statistics Canada said last month that the annual rate of inflation was 5.9 per cent in January.
The OAC operates at arm’s length from Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. In an e-mail, Culture Minister Neil Lumsden’s press secretary said the government had spent almost $340-million on the OAC and more than $1.1-billion on arts and culture since taking office in 2018.
“We are proud of these investments and continue to make significant contributions to our province, supporting thousands of jobs,” Alan Sakach said.
The Ford government eliminated about $5-million from the OAC’s general funding in the months after taking power, while also reducing other specialty funding. The OAC’s baseline grant from the province, excluding some one-time programs, has sat at $59,937,400 for each of the past three fiscal years, according to its audited financial statements.
By way of comparison, between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 fiscal years, the BC Arts Council’s provincial base funding rose about 16 per cent, to $35-million. In the same period, Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec saw government funding jump more than 60 per cent, to almost $200-million.