The city's arts funding program is set for a makeover and many of the players of the city's arts scene – from large institution to burgeoning artists — are on board.

City council is looking to revamp the Community Partnership Program, which provides funding for a variety of organizations and events related to arts, culture, recreation and community services, following persistent complains that the funding mechanism is outdated and fragmented.

Every year, more than 400 arts grant applications are submitted to the city. In the most recent grant cycle, the city received requests for $4.5 million, but only $3.2 million was approved.

'It seems so far to be a vast improvement on the current system we have.' - Crystal Jonassan, Hamilton Fringe Festival

The proposed model would help the city better allocate its limited resource, said John Hertel, the city’s director of finance, administration and revenue generation, who presented the proposal at city council's general issues committee on Wednesday.

“There will never be enough money in this kind of category for sure, but it was very clear ... that we needed to separate the model from the money.”

Branded as the City Enrichment Fund, the proposal aims to offer a more streamlined and transparent application process. Instead of submitting multiple applications at different places at city hall, it allows applicants to have a single point of contact within the city. 

Adding agriculture

The proposal also groups grants into five categories based on the applicants' mandate: arts, communities, culture & heritage, community services, sports & recreation, agriculture and environment.

The introduction of the agriculture category is to better understand the rural territory, Hertel said.

“We certainly don't have a clear handle on that one yet, but we want to bring focus on it to recognize that we do have have a very large rural territory,” Hertel told the council, adding that local food and environmental issues will be the key focus.

Following the proposal, representatives Art Gallery of Hamilton, Brott Festival, Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and Theatre Aquarius – the city's anchor arts organizations — backed the proposal.

Support from grassroots groups

Some of the city's burgeoning artists are also on board.

“It seems so far to be a vast improvement on the current system we have,” Crystal Jonassan, associate producer of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, told CBC Hamilton after the council meeting.

The current model penalizes applicants -- many of them are volunteers -- for not being an exceptional grant writer, Jonassan said, and the new model offers a simplified application process and higher level of transparency.

The new model also proposes a funding increase of $1 million for the arts and arts festivals category over three years. The remaining categories will get $500,000 over the same period.

Jeremy Freiburger is hoping to tap into some of that money. His non-profit creative agency, Cobalt Connects, currently receives no funding from the city. He is hopeful that the new model would allow smaller arts groups like Cobalt Connects to catch up with larger institutions that have decades of experience and financial support.

“A lot of the new programs they proposed allow those small organizations to start making strategic investment in how they use city dollars, to develop themselves as an institution,” he told CBC Hamilton after the council meeting.

Council unanimously passed the motion to approve the Community Enrichment Fund Wednesday afternoon.

The proposal will enter a 30-day public input period to hear feedback from the arts community and the general public before reporting back to the council in September.