Calgary city council rejects freeze, instead plans to nearly double arts agency funding

City council voted 10-5 Wednesday against a motion that would have frozen the Calgary Arts Development Authority's funding.

CADA's yearly budget to increase from $6.4M to $11.4M

Duval Lang and Maureen Thomas perform in the ATP production of You Will Remember Me by François Archambault in 2014. Calgary's arts organizations are set to receive a big funding increase over the next four years. (Brian Harder)

City council voted 10-5 Wednesday against a motion that would have frozen the Calgary Arts Development Authority's funding and plans instead to nearly double the agency's budget next year.

This year, the city gave CADA $6.4 million. The city's proposed four-year budget would set aside $11.4 million for the organization in 2019.

Coun. Sean Chu, who brought forward the motion for the freeze, said it's not the right time to boost funding in Calgary.

'I believe art is a want': councillor

"There's need and there's want, and I believe art is a want," said Chu. 

But Coun. Jeff Davison disagreed, saying the investment in the arts is a key part of the city's economic development strategy that can pay off in terms of jobs, not to mention how a thriving arts scene can attract investors to a city.

"There are businesses out there right now in the oil and gas sector that would kill — kill — for a five-to-one return, so don't give me 'the business case is not there.' Could it be stronger?  Absolutely. We always work on those things, but the reality is the return is very clear here," Davison said.

Chu's motion would have saved the city $20 million over four years. Instead, that money will be used to fund more artists, arts organizations and salary increases for CADA staff.

"A minimum of 75 per cent will go directly into the hands of artists and arts organizations," CADA president and CEO Patti Pon told the Calgary Eyeopener the day before the vote.

"So I think you will see more ideas, more expressions of our stories, more opportunities for Calgarians to participate in the arts however they choose for that to be. And we'll see jobs in the arts, and I think that's a really important thing at this time."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said this increase will mean Calgary will no longer have the lowest support of the arts of any major Canadian city — it will have the second lowest, bumping Winnipeg to the bottom.

President and CEO of the Calgary Arts Development Authority Patti Pon makes the case for a major funding increase to Calgary's arts scene. 6:57

With files from Scott Dippel, the Calgary Eyeopener