On Tuesday afternoon a Calgary City Council committee approved a bylaw amendment to help offset the costs of city services to festivals. Obviously Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation didn’t agree with this kind of precedent and he made a comment about it on Twitter.
As an arts advocate who believes the small subsidy (compared to other industries) Canadians provide arts organizations is far outweighed by the return on investment and quality of life we get back, I took it upon myself to have a conversation with Mr. Hennig on Twitter about this topic.
Here is the full conversation to the best of my Twitter searching capabilities:
CalgaryCowbell: We want our cake and to eat it too. Low taxes = no money for city to provide services for festivals #yyc
ScottHennig: @CalgaryCowbell low taxes = citizens have the ability to fund festivals, arts, and other things themselves.
djkelly: @scotthennig Canadian arts would disappear w/o granting support. And with it the differences between Canada and US, followed by the border.
djkelly: @scotthennig It is in the city/prov/country’s interest to support the arts to attract and retain talent.
ScottHennig: @djkelly I don’t think it is in the “city/prov/country’s interest,” it is in citizen’s interest to support the arts, willingly and freely.
djkelly: @scotthennig Does that argument extend to garbage collection? Public transit? Road maintenance? And other things in the public interest?
ScottHennig: @djkelly there R some things that R difficult to fund directly & freely (ie. police) + there R things that R easy to do so (ie. arts).
djkelly: @scotthennig What makes the arts easy for individuals exclusively to fund? No country has been able to do it successfully. (Most don’t try.)
ScottHennig: @djkelly Most theaters have ticket offices, most buskers have hats, & most painters will sell their work. Plus most arts groups R charities.
djkelly: @scotthennig NP arts revenue model: 1/3 ticket sales, 1/3 donations, 1/3 grants. No arts group can survive on ticket sales alone.
djkelly: @scotthennig Eliminate grants and prices would triple and no-one would come. Same thing if we made every street a toll road.
ScottHennig: @nenshi @djkelly 99.7% of the Metropolitan Opera expenses covered by non-gov’t sources. But not the point.
ScottHennig: @djkelly vry doubtful. Lwr tax = more charitable giving. Plus, arts that nobody wld support wld disappear. Just like car companies…whoops!
djkelly: @scotthennig The increase of charitable giving created by lower taxes would not come close to offsetting the lost of grants.
ScottHennig: @djkelly True. But only to those who get a disproportionate amount of tax $. Other artists or charitable sectors would get more.
djkelly: @scotthennig Sorry, who currently gets a disproportionate amount?
djkelly: @scotthennig RE the Met: you cite an example from a city with 12M ppl. Your point doesn’t translate to Canada as it would mean no opera 4 us
ScottHennig: @djkelly Those arts who get more tax $ than the public would give them freely if given back their money back currently get a disproport. Amt
ScottHennig: @djkelly RE: Met, the point is that citizens will support the arts, and yes on a smaller scale so could any group of citizens in Canada.
djkelly: @scotthennig Sounds like that would take more $ in red tape & admin than it would save.
ScottHennig: @djkelly Not much red tape involved in cutting taxes.
djkelly: @scotthennig Can’t do the vast majority of operas on a smaller scale. A symphony and cast can’t be replaced by less ppl.
djkelly: @scotthennig Looks like we are having a 140 character problem as I apparently didn’t understand your proposal. Or you wanted a sound bite
ScottHennig: @djkelly Yes, and the Calgary Flames don’t play games in 500 seat arenas, but other hockey teams do.
ScottHennig: D djkelly Good convo. Gotta run.
djkelly: @scotthennig As a fiscal conservative I appreciate the CTF. Obviously we disagree on this issue though.
djkelly: @scotthennig Can’t DM back bc your not following me. Thanks 4 debating the issue. 2 often ppl lob insults at the arts & won’t back them up.
Unfortunately we were just getting warmed up when the end of the work day came and we both had to leave our computers. It is a worth while discussion and I hope to have the ability to continue the debate with Mr. Hennig in the future. Perhaps in person next time.
Also available on the Calgary Herald’s Q.
The recent “resignation” of Jeffrey Spalding from the Glenbow Museum has created a new call for a gallery of contemporary art. The Herald is all over it. And I’ve had several of my colleagues bring up the thought as well since Spalding’s departure.
The Herald article is the one I find the most interesting however. The first thing I see is they talk to the IMCA pushers (the group that tried their damnedest to secure the old AGT building on 6 Ave SW for the gallery a couple years back) and they mention the $165 million the City of Calgary has available currently as a possible starting point. Yes, that is a good fund to draw from, but you didn’t make it to the short list last year – assuming you put in an application. The money won’t help you if you don’t ask for it. But first you need to get organized better. This is the one over riding thing I’ve heard from people: the group is a high profile group but not well situated to lead the creation of a new gallery. Trust me: after being part of building two new cultural space in the city you need to have a good solid group of people who know what they are doing and are connected in the right ways to get it off the ground.
Which leads me to the second thing I noticed in the article: the IMCA pushers think Spalding may be the man to lead there charge. This is a very good idea – but have you talked to him? I’m not sure this is the best time for him personally. The article says he is has not made any comments since his “resignation”. True, but I’ve had a conversation with him, albeit a shortened one over email. Let’s just say my thoughts are not baseless. (And those quotation marks aren’t for gramatically incorrect emphasis.) I emp
The long and the short of it is – the opportunity for a contemporary art gallery is upon us. But someone is going to have to get a supportive organization organized in the very near future it make it happen. Spalding is just one man – as evidenced by recent events. Someone else will have to step up to lead the organization.
The Glenbow will not and cannot be that gallery. I’ve said it several times over the last few days – they don’t have the space or the brand to make it happen. Don’t even try. We’ll have to wait and see if someone else can make the seemingly impossible happen.
Also available on the Calgary Herald’s Q.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the recession we are currently in – or the one that is coming depending on who you are talking to – and one thing has struck me in some of the commentary I’ve been hearing. It seems the horrible nature of a recession or a depression comes not from the low stock market yields but more from the instability of said markets.
This makes complete sense to me. As an investor I sure don’t want to invest in something that isn’t going to increase in value, but at the same time if I can predict when something is going to go down in value I can better prepare my financial portfolio. Where things start to get hairy is when there is no predictability. The markets are up one day and down the next.
This is when people start keeping their money in their pockets because they are scared to spend it – they have no idea when they will need the savings.
This all came flooding back to me when I saw the following two stories come through my Twitter one pretty much right after the other last night:
In addition, I’m seeing stories about Ballet BC and the Baltimore Opera folding under the pressure, while personally I’m hearing local arts groups saying everything is okay so far – they haven’t noticed a drop off in sales at all.
Seems how no one can agree on whether things are just as good as ever or that the world is ending. So I’m going to go out on a limb and officially call it: we’re in a recession.
Thanks to the efforts of the members of the CPAA and some thoughtful deliberation by our Aldermen, today Council defeated two motions to cut arts funding from the 2009-2011 civic budget.
The first motion was regarding the Public Arts Program while the second was a motion to cut increases to Calgary Arts Development’s granting budget.
I am very pleased to report that the second motion fell unanimously. Even Ald. Chabot, who put the motion forward, voting against is own motion after indicating he was swayed by the arguments of Ald. Ceci among others.
A big thank you goes out to everyone who took the time to call or write your Alderman or the Mayor. It was those arguments formed the discourse Council participated in today. I hope all those folks take the time to send them a personalized thank you note. They deserve much credit for making such an informed decision today.
PS – It has been a busy past couple of months on the advocacy front for the CPAA and our members, so I encourage everyone to, yes, celebrate today’s “victory”. Hopefully you will see less email directly from us in the near future!
Also available on the Calgary Herald’s Q.
Several years ago Rick Bell wrote one of my favourite lines about Calgary. He called it, “the city planning forgot.” At the time, I whole-heartedly agreed. It was the mid-90s and it seemed the city was pulling itself apart after a period of growth that all areas of civic infrastructure had not kept up with. In short, Calgary was not prepared for the kind of city it was becoming.
I am very impressed with recent Councils determination to not see this happen again. Even the average citizen can see that planning is a priority for the Mayor and Alderman. And everyone will agree Calgary will be better because of that foresight.
As someone who works in the creative industries, I was especially impressed with the creation of a Civic Arts Policy because, at the time, this kind of advanced planning by our Council almost seemed foreign to me. After extensive surveys, focus groups and reviews of best practices Council set forth determined to invest in “creat[ing] a city where people want to live and do business … by establishing a community enriched by artistic, recreational and cultural choices”. A noble cause, and yet one with its expectations planted firmly in reality. They knew this would not happen overnight and that it would require continued vision and creativity to make this goal come to life.
There is no good time to invest money – especially with all the competing interests City Council deals with on a regular basis. During the recent “boom” arts and culture funding increases found it hard to come to realization because of the high cost of everything else Council was trying to build. That investment would have to wait. And now that the economy has slowed, the citizens of Calgary hear from some that we need to tighten our belts and arts and culture funding might need to be a casualty of that. It is a no-win situation. When is the right time to focus on the noble goals of the Civic Arts Policy?
Here are some interesting numbers that show the “uncultured” stereotypes about Calgary are not true:
- Calgarians more per capita on art works and events than any of Canada’s major metropolitan centres.
- Maclean’s magazine recently published a scientific study proving Calgary was Canada’s “most cultured city”.
- 13.5% of Calgarians work in the cultural industries.
- At $29.43 dollars leveraged from other sources for every City dollar invested, Calgary’s arts organizations achieve the highest leverage of funds from other sources on the City’s municipal investment ($19.86 Winnipeg leverage, $17.53 Edmonton leverage, $15.00 Toronto leverage; and $12.78 Vancouver leverage).
- Albertans spent 75% more on live performing arts ($140 million) than on live sports events ($81 million in 2005. In addition, nearly twice as many Alberta households spent at least some money on live performing arts (43% of households) than on live sports events (23%) in 2005.
Given these numbers ranking us so high on the cultural front, I think it is fair to say Calgary should not rank last on a list of benchmark cities’ investment in the culture per capita.
To create the kind of city we all want to live in we need not only planning but commitment to achieve the goals we have set out for ourselves. That includes reducing EMS wait times, improving traffic flow, increasing LRT ridership, and “establishing a community enriched by artistic, recreational and cultural choices.”
We need to be prepared for the kind of city we are becoming. And there will never be a better time to invest in our future than right now.