Fashion industry seeks access to cultural funding in Ontario

Is fashion art and should it be funded alongside music, theatre, film, TV and visual arts? A new petition is calling on the Ontario government to add fashion to the funding table and aid an industry that needs new investment.

Industry rallies around petition for funding as province devises new cultural strategy

Should fashion be funded as art?

8 years ago
Duration 2:34
Should fashion be funded as art? desc: The fashion community is urging Ontario to fund fashion as a cultural industry

Is fashion art? Should fashion designers be eligible to receive the grants now given to the arts and culture industry?

These are a few of the questions being raised by a petition calling on the Ontario Government to fund fashion. 

Spearheaded by fashion industry lawyer Ashlee Froese, a partner with Toronto law firm Fogler Rubinoff, the online petition has garnered almost 1,000 signatures so far. 

Is fashion art? A Toronto-based group believes so and is petitioning the Ontario government for the fashion industry to receive arts funding. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The campaign comes as the province's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport is devising a new culture strategy, with input due by Dec. 7. 

"I deal with fashion designers, fashion companies, fashion entrepreneurs all the time," Froese told CBC News.

"There are consistent themes: they need funding, they need help."

Currently, Quebec is the only Canadian province that funds the fashion industry, according to Froese, and she believes it's why designers there are doing so well. 

In 2014-2015, Ontario's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports invested approximately $800 million into the province's cultural industries. The fashion industry has lobbied for years to be eligible for access to that government funding and Froese believes the time is now right for the fashion industry to get a slice of the pie.

All the elements that go into making an art painting or sculpture — balance, line, proportion, scale — that all applies to clothing as well.- David Dixon

"The fashion industry is a big money-maker and if we take the lead and inject resources into it, I'm hoping and I believe you will see that return back."

Funding would help both designers who are just starting out, as well as those who are more established, says David Dixon.

Cultural funding that currently supports disciplines as diverse as visual art, theatre, dance, books, film and television should include fashion, since designers are artists and fashion is art, said the veteran Toronto designer, who started his namesake label in 1995.

Toronto lawyer Ashlee Froese spearheaded a petition asking the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to fund fashion. (JR Bernstein)

"It's not only just an art form, it's also a language," Dixon said.

"All the elements that go into making an art painting or sculpture — balance, line, proportion, scale — that all applies to clothing as well. We're just having to express ourselves in a clothing aspect as our medium, as opposed to marble or oil paint."

Culture funding 'already stretched'

However, some in the arts community are concerned about fashion being added to the cultural funding table. 

Though visual artist Gwen MacGregor believes there is an artistic side to fashion, she worries about how cash-strapped funding agencies might be affected.

Veteran fashion designer David Dixon believes fashion is art and designers are artists. (CBC)

Bodies such as the Ontario Arts Council are "already really stretched financially and right now they're really struggling to address even the different kinds of artworks that they support [currently]," MacGregor said.

"So I think that, unless there was a substantial new sum of money coming in, [funding fashion as art] wouldn't be a good idea." 

While the government won't release its new strategy until next summer, perhaps this time fashion has a chance.

"I encourage the fashion sector to bring their ideas forward," Michael Coteau, Ontario's minister of tourism, culture and sport, told CBC News.

"As we develop new policy around a new strategy for culture in Ontario, fashion is one of those pieces that will be considered."