Ottawa’s 2009 municipal budget was just released, and the arts, culture, and heritage community is reeling. After realizing that the city would require an either $59 million decrease in spending or increase in revenue, Mayor O’Brien brought out the axe. It is not surprising that in a budget where the words ‘arts’ and ‘culture’ can be found less than 10 times respectively, buried on page 52 is a 42 percent cut to all arts, culture, and heritage investments as well as a complete retraction of festival and event investments.
A close inspection of the budget reveals that the “adjustment to cultural services” is the most expansive, and highest impact (in terms of dollars) single-cut of anything offered in the 5-part Options for Reduction or Revenues package, other than adjusting underperforming bus routes. Yet while the rationale concerning the transit cuts enjoys a 5-page deliberation, the rationale for “Adjustment to existing services” – the category under which the arts, culture, and heritage cuts are relegated – is breezed through in less than a page, the final paragraph of which is:
All of the services identified for adjustments may be considered essential to individuals or specific groups in the city. However, compared to the multitude of services and programs the City provides, these proposed adjustments do not seriously impact the functioning of the city, nor do they compromise general public safety.
As a member of the Arts and Culture community in Ottawa, and author on this website, my opinion on the cuts won’t shock you. For all of the reasons that thinkers like Richard, Charles Landry, and Glen Murray have espoused, these cuts are a bad idea. The budget-in-question never once profiles the region’s rich cultural economy, nor does it consider expansion of its cultural industries in any of its economic forecasting, or leveraging the momentum that it’s been building within the global festival community. For having such an uninhibited willingness to cut arts, culture, and heritage investments, there doesn’t seem to be as great an effort from the city to understand arts, culture, and heritage contributions in any nuanced kind of way. One page certainly doesn’t do them justice. This kind of cut may save in the short term, but if money is the only currency being considered then the city is doomed to waste a lot of it.
To workers in the affected areas within the cultural industries: how can these challenges be overcome with a positive net impact on the arts, culture, and heritage sectors? Another sector that is getting hit hard by cuts is housing – they are facing similar questions. Feeling the pinch of restricted access to debt markets more than most, social enterprise models are becoming increasingly employed to generate capital in the housing world. Can the city and these arts, culture, and heritage bodies work together to leverage the currency and momentum that they already have into shared and re-invested profit? How do we encourage a modicum of cultural planning in our municipal budgets? Could budgets like these bring about a shift in the way that the arts, culture, and heritage are financed in general?
And now, as always, some music.