HRM arts funding in crisis

This opinion piece was run the Herald May 26, 2012. Read the full opinion piece in the Chronicle Herald.

POST SCRIPT: After this piece was published I was asked to be lead author and opinon wrangler for the Arts Section of the Centre for Policy Alternatives Alternative Budget for HRM.  I have linked to the excerpted arts and culture section here.  This is a great place to start with a new, real cultural plan for HRM.

HRM arts funding in crisis

May 26, 2012 – 4:10am BY WAYE MASON

Municipal funding for arts and culture in Halifax Regional Municipality is in crisis. Unlike most Canadian cities, HRM does not provide stable and predictable arts funding.

This has been a hard year for many annual events. Because Halifax has a system of mismatched grants that are not designed to provide annual funding, both Neptune Theatre and Symphony Nova Scotia did not get their regular annual stipends from the city. Hal-con and Nocturne were also denied funding, despite being successful events.

When one of these organizations falls through the cracks of HRM’s inadequate and complicated funding process, the city’s response is to say “our hands are tied; it’s in the policy.”

The best example of this failed process is the denial of funding to Symphony Nova Scotia.

The process of grant funding needs to serve our community’s goals. If Halifax’s goal is to be a world-class city that has a professional symphony orchestra, HRM needs to be prepared to catch up to every other city and fund Symphony Nova Scotia properly.

Other cities’ symphonies get funding in the $250,000 to $500,000 range, every year. Halifax has provided an average grant of $17,916 since 2005; but in 2012, it tried to cut operational support to $5,000. HRM’s proposed operational funding for Symphony Nova Scotia is now less than two per cent of the next similar-sized city’s funding. This is simply not right.

The problem is HRM doesn’t have the right kind of funding program. There is a community grants program that funds every-thing from affordable housing to neighbourhood security to arts and crafts. The symphony and Neptune can apply for a $5,000 community grant or a $25,000 capital grant through this program. This pits the symphony against organizations like Scouts Canada and Adsum House.

There is also the marketing levy, which comes from a two per cent tax on hotel rooms. It is designed to fund events that will bring tourists to fill hotel rooms. It is not designed to fund groups like the symphony that provide many nights of entertainment year-round. Nor is it designed to fund amazing nights of art and magic like Nocturne that make citizens feel proud of their city.

How do other municipalities approach this kind of funding? They have dedicated funding for the arts, administered by arm’s-length agencies. Winnipeg invests $4 million in arts funding, of which $263,000 goes to the symphony. In Victoria, it’s $1.9 million, with $380,000 going to the symphony. London, Ont., a city smaller than Halifax, invests $1.5 million in arts, and $500,000 goes to the symphony. The inability to provide funds comparable to similar-sized cities is an embarrassment for HRM.

Haligonians want to support the arts and culture institutions that make this city so exciting. Halifax deserves to have a symphony, a theatre, a new music festival, an art-at-night event, and a sci-fi convention of national calibre.

This is not a symphony problem; this is a problem for many community organizations. We need better ideas for funding arts and culture partners because what HRM is doing is not good enough.

Waye Mason is running for HRM council in Peninsula South Downtown. He has worked in the music and culture sector as a college instructor, business manager and event promoter for over 22 years.