Ask Your Candidate: Arts Funding

By: Lauren Simmons

The arts are integral to the fabric of a modern city like Toronto. Statistically, the arts employ more women than they do men, but Toronto lags woefully behind most major cities in its per-capita arts funding (by 2017 it will finally reach $25/capita, a figure first set in 2002, and which is still less than half that in cities like Montreal). Budget support for the arts has consistently been under attack in the last four years at City Council, most recently with a planned increase in funding being pushed back to as late as 2017. When you ask the candidates in your ward how they plan to support the arts, you’re also asking how they’ll support the important cultural contributions of some of our city’s most precariously employed citizens

1. Do you support privatized arts funding?

During Rob Ford’s tenure as Mayor, much of the city’s arts community has lived in fear of Council’s overwhelming support for privatized arts funding, which benefits large, highly visible and commercially viable endeavours (e.g. the Toronto International Film Festival), at the expense of smaller, more cutting-edge projects. Where do your candidates stand on privatized funding? Are financial benefits like tourist dollars a necessary condition for your candidates’ support of the arts, or do they have other reasons for doing so?

2. Where do you stand on the Beautiful City initiative?

In January 2013, Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee approved a budget that included restored funding in some areas, including funneling $6 million of billboard tax profits into programs for the arts. However, as recently as the last budget cycle, council pushed those increases back to 2017. Will your candidates support the existing practice of using the billboard tax for increased arts funding? User fees like water rates and TTC fares have increased beyond the rate of inflation in recent years but the billboard tax has been frozen. If your candidates are arts-friendly, they may support increasing the billboard tax by at least the rate of inflation retroactive to its introduction in 2009 so arts funding in real, inflation-adjusted dollars doesn’t decrease.

3. What is your stance on public art and graffiti?

Mayor Ford has made no bones about his public war on graffiti, but many, particularly youth in marginalized communities, have seen this as attack on the arts. Further, programs in such neighbourhoods have found themselves closed with little explanation. Where do your candidates stand on graffiti, and on public art in general? Toronto pales in comparison to many other major cities in terms of accessible public art. What do your potential councillors think can or should be done about that?

Funding for the arts may not get all the buzz on the campaign trail, but a candidate’s position on the arts can reveal much about the Toronto they envision.

With files from Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler

 

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Ask Your Candidate: City Programs and Grants

By: Lauren Simmons

The City of Toronto funds hundreds of programs for residents and distributes a number of grants to support organizations. Some of these programs are particularly important in making our city as livable as possible for women and other equity-seeking groups, and it’s important to know where the candidates in your ward stand.

1. What are your ward’s candidates’ positions on the City of Toronto Welcome Policy? This policy provides a subsidy to help low-income families access recreation programs like swimming lessons and day camps, and is crucial to increasing access to city programs for all Toronto’s residents. In the past, the Welcome Policy has come under fire at City Hall – as recently as January, when debating the 2014 budget, Mayor Ford floated the possibility of charging an application fee for families who use the Welcome Policy. Ask your potential city councillor where they stand on the Welcome Policy – will they defend it, and at what cost?

2. Where does your candidate want to see the City’s grant money go? The City of Toronto supports organizations that do social, economic and cultural work through various forms of community funding. It is helpful for voters to know which of these grants a candidate supports, and to what extent they want to allocate city funds to these interests. Find out what your candidate’s priorities are when it comes to allocating grants – do they support arts and cultural organizations? Services for newcomers? Community organizations? LGBTQ programs? Environmental groups? Assess your candidates’ grant funding priorities and see if they align with yours.

3. Does the city currently have the funds for the programs your candidate supports/proposes, and if not, where does he/she believe the should money come from? It’s easy for candidates to say that they want to see more money go to improving the tree canopy, or supporting libraries, or LGBTQ youth, but where would they take that money from? Seeing which programs your potential councillors de-prioritize can be just as telling as seeing what they put at the top of the heap, so take time to ask them where you think our money doesn’t need to go.

The various programs and grants covered by the City of Toronto budget are as complicated and faceted as the residents of the city itself, and no one candidate will be able to declare support for all of them equally. By taking time to assess which programs matter to you, to your communities, and to the equity-seeking groups you belong to and support, you can be better informed when discussing these programs with your potential representatives.