City committee OK's $2M in bridge funding for arts groups

A request by several major arts groups in Calgary for $2 million in bridge funding was approved Tuesday by the city's finance committee.

Council still needs to give final approval to 10 arts organizations whose corporate backing has dried up

Alberta Ballet is one of 10 local arts groups asking the city to invest $2 million into their organization, as they believe arts and culture is the key to revitalizing the city's economy. (Paul McGrath/Canadian Press)

A request by several major arts groups in Calgary for $2 million in bridge funding was unanimously approved Tuesday by the city's finance committee.

Ten organizations — including Alberta Ballet, Calgary Opera and the National Music Centre — say they can help diversify the economy, but that a loss of ticket revenue and corporate sponsorships is making it tough to stay afloat.

If the proposal is subsequently approved by council as a whole, the money would come out of the city's recently created $10-million economic diversification investment fund.

The city's manager of culture, Sarah Iley, said Calgary's cornerstone arts organizations need the bridge financing because corporate and individual donations and sponsorships have dried up since the recession began.

"That has been depleted very, very considerably over the last two years," she said.

An amendment proposed by Coun. Evan Woolley that would have bumped the funding to $3.7 million failed to pass on a tie. Council will have the option of revisiting that idea when it considers the funding request.

'Subject to a lot of risk'

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he doesn't think the amount needs to be higher than $2 million at this point.

"I'm never in favour of giving people more money than they asked for," he said.

Nenshi praised Calgary's arts organizations for an entrepreneurial spirit that sets them apart from similar groups in other cities.

"One of the things that really I love about the Calgary arts community is how entrepreneurial and innovative it is, not relying as much on government funding as others do," he said. 

"However that also means you are subject to a lot of risk when there's an economic downturn."

Coun. Druh Farrell agrees that arts organizations need more support in Calgary.

"We've been able to underfund our arts community and they've been successful because of industry coming through and helping out and we can't continue to do that," she said.

Support for arts important, culture boss says

"That's why we need to look at a long-term sustainable strategy that keeps them healthy."

Farrell says Calgary has the lowest per capita funding of the arts in the country.

"A city of our size not having an opera or philharmonic or healthy theatre, performing arts, I think that would be a crying shame," she said.

When the arts groups made a pitch to council last month for the funding, council asked them to return with a stronger business case in July.

Iley said the committee's decision to green-light the $2 million is an encouraging sign.

"I think that what we heard from councillors is that they totally understand arts organizations are critical to making this city what it is," she said.