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$500K in arts money shouldn't just go to the usual places: advocates

As the city prepares to grant an additional $500,000 in its new arts funding program, artists and organizations outside of the mainstream are hopeful the gates will be swung open to include them.

'We know what's going on in James Street North, but we don't know what's going on in Centennial Park'

Supercrawl 2012 featured Young Rival. One goal of the city's new funding program is to streamline applications to a one-stop shop for grants.

As the city prepares to grant an additional $500,000 in its new arts funding program, artists and organizations outside of the mainstream are hopeful the gates will swing open to include them. 

The new fund will be $500,000 bigger this year and city staff hope to add another $500,000 over the next two years. As they make the pot bigger, city staff have identified new streams of funding in the program they want to give to less established artists and organizations.

That can't come soon enough, said musician and producer Kojo Damptey. 

"That's always been an issue here in Hamilton, where you have bigger arts groups that tend to get all the resources and then as a musician, artist, you don't get the opportunities to access some of those resources," he said. "I've had discussions with other artists in the city. There was the concern that we hope we spread the wealth around."

That's always been an issue here in Hamilton, where you have bigger arts groups that tend to get all the resources.- Kojo Damptey

Here's who got top funding under the city's old program last year, according to the city's finance director:

  • Art Gallery of Hamilton: $937,000
  • Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra: $113,700
  • Brott Music Festival: $90,000
  • Festival of Friends: $85,000
  • Supercrawl: $80,000
  • Theatre Aquarius: $75,300

Damptey, who was born and raised in Ghana, said it was not readily apparent where he fit in the previous arts funding framework. 

"This is an issue that I have personally with Hamilton. Everything that's done in the arts tends to be white," he said. "It doesn't depict other cultures that are in the city. So that's another issue."

Filimone Mabjaia started Matapa, a non-profit company that presents world music concerts, three years ago. (Adam Carter/CBC)
Filimone Mabjaia started Matapa, a non-profit world music company that puts on concerts and a summer festival in Gage Park, a few years ago. Despite not receiving formal city grants yet, Mabjaia is a passionate booster of Hamilton's arts scene, preaching its charms to the artists he brings in and to those he'd like to at European and North American world music conferences. (Matapa will have some city support this summer for the Pan Am Games.) 

He collaborates with world music promoters in London and Kitchener-Waterloo to tell audiences there about concerts happening in Hamilton, and vice versa. 

He said he hopes the city can reach out to groups and artists who might not otherwise be in the loop.

"We know what's going on in James Street North," he said. "But we don't know what's going on in Centennial Park, for example." 

Another barrier Mabjaia identified is language. Some artists and organizations he knows won't apply for the city program because they speak only French, he said. 

'There's way too much to do for that money'

Tim Potocic runs Sonic Unyon and Supercrawl and chaired the committee that hosted the Juno Awards in Hamilton this year. He's spent the last few years convening roundtables and working as part of the lobbying effort to bring the new funding strategy to city hall. 

He thinks the $500,000 boost will certainly go to some increases for established operating institutions, but that wasn't the main point of growing the pot. 

"It's a huge win," he said. "I hope the money gets split out to many more organizations and developing artists." 

But Loren Lieberman, director of Festival of Friends, is skeptical of a program that promises to both boost existing grant levels and open the gates to more grantees.

"If they're going to implement the recommendation and expand the level of things the city funds, and they're going to open to those who never qualified before, half a million doesn't even come close," he said. "There's way too much to do for that money. If you make the pie bigger and just slice the pie a whole lot more then it doesn't work."

Have to find other money too

But Carol Kehoe, director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, hopes the new money will be able to do both — fund the major organizations as well as "trickle down" to the less established artists who may find income from some of the larger groups.

"It helps the entire ecosystem of arts in the community," she said.

In addition to making the process fairer and more stable, the city hopes new arts funding program becomes the one-stop-shop for arts organizations seeking city funding. Supercrawl got a base level of $80,000 from the city arts program but cobbled another $20,000 from other city sources. The goal is that groups will get funding from one source and not also seek extra from ward councillors or the economic development department, and will help arts organizations avoid the kind of hoop-jumping Supercrawl had to in 2013. 

Mabjaia hopes arts groups continue to push for the city's funding to be inclusive and fair. But he emphasized artists and groups need to persevere on their own, too. 

"We cannot expect the city to do everything," he said. "Artists will always exist. We'll always be here."  

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