Toronto arts funding cuts on hold

Arts organizations in Scarborough and across Toronto are breathing a little easier. At least for now.

On Sept. 19, funding for the arts in Toronto got a reprieve as city council continued to look for ways to balance its budget. The decision on arts funding has been deferred to a later date.

“It seems at this point that arts grants are going to be protected,” said Susan Wright, director of operations at the Toronto Arts Council.

Currently, arts funding accounts for about $16 million, or 0.19 per cent, of Toronto’s annual operating budget.

The Scarborough Arts Council is among several groups in Scarborough that would suffer if its city funding were to be reduced.

“Arts provide an opportunity to celebrate one’s community for positive messaging, for positive experiences,” said Tim Whalley, executive director of Scarborough Arts Council. “That’s important in Scarborough.”

Art, Whalley said, can help rehabilitate the reputation of a neighbourhood with a checkered past.

“We were brought into [Orton Park and Morningside] to liven up the space, to make it a creative and inviting space,” he said. “[Arts] build bridges across communities, they bring people together and they provide people with really important skills.

“The youth who go through our programs gain particular skills that they’re able to use later on.”

At a Sept. 15 press conference at Roy Thomson Hall, leaders in Toronto’s arts community addressed the looming city hall discussion on cuts but underlined the importance of city funding to their industry.

“We understand that the city needs to balance its budget and we want to help,” said Claire Hopkinson, executive director of the Toronto Arts Council.

Richie Mehta, a Genie-nominated writer and director, spoke about the importance of arts grants to his success. Without the grants, he said, he wouldn’t have been able to make his first feature film Amal.

“Grants, more than anything, allowed me to find my voice,” he said.

Arts funding, Art Gallery of Ontario president Jim Fleck said, helps keep and attract the best people.

“Knowledge workers can go almost anywhere they want and we want them to think of Toronto as the place they want to live,” he said.