Hamilton artists were relieved and excited Tuesday as city councillors voted for the first major boost in arts funding in 15 years.
Currently, Hamilton residents pay $3.08 per capita in arts funding. But with a unanimous vote at Tuesday’s budget meeting, councillors voted to spend another $3 per household to help local artists, or $500,000 more per year.
“I’m kind of shaking,” said Svava Juliusson, chair of Hamilton Artists Inc. “It means many things for us. It means a level of sustainability. It’s a way for us to be able to plan beyond next week or next month.”
“It was very emotional.”
Tuesday’s vote actually means another $800,000 more in arts grants in Hamilton. The Hamilton Community Foundation pledged another $300,000 if councillors voted in favour.
Artists and arts organizations will apply to the city, and a peer-review panel will assesses the applications. The grants are part of the City Enrichment Fund, which council approved last summer.
'You make our city proud, and you deserve this.' - Coun. Jason Farr
The city hasn't significantly increased its arts funding in 15 years, said Stephanie Vegh, executive director of the Hamilton Arts Council. Five years ago, the city struck a task force for the arts. In 2013, that group produced a report showing Hamilton artists made an average of $27,000 per year in 2011, and only 30 per cent of that came from their art.
It also showed that Hamilton funds the arts at a rate of $3.08 per capita compared to cities such as Ottawa ($10.10), Winnipeg ($7.51), Waterloo ($4.73) and Windsor ($3.86).
All councillors approved the increase. That includes Coun. Judi Partridge of Ward 15, who said she voted against it on March 1 because she wants to keep down tax increases in her Flamborough ward.
"You make us laugh and cry," said Coun. Jason Farr of Ward 2. "You make us think. You make us want to dance and sing. You make our city proud, and you deserve this."
Councillors talked about the economic spinoff the arts bring. The city will use key performance indicators to monitor how the spending benefits the city.
That pleased Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8.
“Every time we put more money out, we’re putting more challenges on individuals who can’t stay in their homes,” he said. “That was always my benchmark. Having said that, it’s clear it’s an economic issue, not just a quality of life issue.”
Whitehead also wants staff to make sure the grants are distributed throughout the city and not just “one geographic area.”
The 2015 city budget sits at a 3.1-per cent increase over last year. That’s an increase of $97 per year on a home valued at $284,600 and an assessment growth of 1.3 per cent.
At Tuesday’s meeting, councillors are also deliberating another 0.3 per cent worth of “enhancements,” or another $845,760.
That includes another $1.2 million to hire 30 more paramedics and one supervisor, and put five more ambulances on the road. It also includes another 3.5 staff to monitor and develop policy around air quality.
City council expects to ratify the budget on April 8.