Theatre Aquarius is poised to receive the biggest jump in funding under the city's new strategy for funding arts. The theatre got about $74,000 from the city last year, but in new grants up for review Friday, staff are recommending a grant of $210,000.

"This is great news," said Gregg Taylor, Aquarius's marketing and development manager, who learned of the proposed new grant when CBC Hamilton contacted him Thursday. "Compared to other (similar-sized) 'Category A' regional theatres around the country, it's still low. But it won't be embarrassing anymore. Yay!" 

The new money comes in part from a $500,000 addition earmarked for arts, the city's first major boost in 15 years. The revamped grant program involves a more detailed and consistent application and ranking process.

The new fund also opened the doors to some new applicants that haven't received funding before. One recommendation is for $48,000 for An Instrument for Every Child, a project of the Hamilton Music Collective. Another: Dusk Dances Hamilton, which city staff proposes giving $10,000 to the HCA Dance Theatre to present the festival again this year.

Hamilton Philharmonic Conductor Gregory Vajda

Conductor Gregory Vajda led the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra through a special Remembrance Day performance on Saturday. (John Rieti/CBC)

The new City Enrichment Fund brings money together from the various pots from which theatres, music groups and arts organizations used to piece their city money together. The new fund promised to rebalance some historic inequities as well as to bring new applicants into the fold. 

The proposed grants in the new fund include arts, community projects, sports and festivals. City staff will present the proposed grants to a recommendation committee on Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. at city hall. Then the grants will go to a council committee before being voted on by city council later this month.

The Hamilton Community Foundation pledged an additional $300,000 for arts. The foundation expects to have more details in the summer about how it will allocate its grants, CEO Terry Cooke said.

City arts funding top recipients (compares old Boards/Agencies to new City Enrichment Fund (*proposed))
2014 2015*
Art Gallery of Hamilton $1.0M $1.0M
Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra $113,700 $150,000
Brott Music Festival $90,000 $125,000
Festival of Friends $85,000 $85,270
Supercrawl $80,000 $100,000
Theatre Aquarius $73,500 $210,000

Phasing some organizations out

In the uncertainty leading up to the new program, the city promised it wouldn't take any funding away from organizations that got grants last year. But the new proposal identifies a few organizations that will need to meet with the city and make changes to their applications if they want to continue to receive city funding in future years.

Those organizations applying for arts funding that would've failed this year include the Factory Media Centre, Culture for Kids in the Arts and the Waterdown Arts and Culture Streetfest. The McMaster Museum of Art will be phased out of city arts funding after a proposed $5,000 grant this year, because the museum is part of the university and not a standalone organization.

The Art Gallery of Hamilton gets a guaranteed $1 million annually, first granted in 2007, through 2016. For 2015, the vast majority of that commitment is recommended to come from the City Enrichment Fund.

'An inherited patchwork from pre-amalgamation days'

hi-art-crawl-852

James Street North was alive with the sights and sounds of Hamilton at the May Art Crawl. (Sheryl Nadler)

Aquarius's situation speaks to the sometimes-strange setup the city had in place in previous years. Some organizations, like Aquarius and the Hamilton Philharmonic, fit into a funding program called "Boards and Agencies" that was later amended to be called "Boards and Agencies and Supercrawl." That pot basically rolled over groups' funding amounts from year to year, and so Aquarius ended up with a number that seemed arbitrary but was tied to an old tax payment plan the theatre had struck with the city years ago.

""It was an inherited patchwork from pre-amalgamation days," Taylor said. "They were numbers that had no relationship to each other, or to the return on investment to the city." 

Taylor praised the new structure for funding. 

"It's really tremendous work in reinventing the whole structure," he said. "They went way beyond the scope of a Band-aid solution."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett