I don’t typically use this blog to spout my own personal politics, but, well hell – I’m going to.
If you don’t live in Ottawa, you can pretty well ignore this post, but I’d rather you read it just so you can see how incompetent and short-sighted our local government really is.
As part of next year’s draft budget, the city has cut $35 million. Of that, $26 million is for new projects that have not yet begun, and $9 million comes from existing spending. The trouble is, that $9 million isn’t spread across the board like cuts of this nature usually are. Almost half of that $9 million in cuts is set to come from local arts and culture, including 100% cuts to festivals and cultural organizations regardless of stability, sustainability or local impact.
Whether or not you choose to spend your nights at the theatre, you have to understand that disproportionately attacking arts and culture in the city is not a recipe for long-term fiscal repsonsibility. Ottawa has close to 40 festivals, all of whom provide stimulus to the local economy. It is estimated that for every dollar invested in the arts, $7 is injected into local businesses. Besides that, these festivals and theatre companies provide valuable opportunities for young people to further their careers.
In 2001, I was the publicist for the Ottawa Fringe Festival, an organization for which I now serve on the board of directors. As a direct result of this experience, I went on to found a professional theatre company, build my marketing and public relations experience, and after working for years in agencies, am the owner of a successful agency myself. These are the types of opportunities the City of Ottawa is flushing down the toilet.
Artists don’t make a lot of money. In fact, most that I know just make ends meet, and are comfortable with the fact that they’ll never have a huge payday, but they continue to work in the arts and take a substantial pay cut over what they could make elsewhere, because they love it and they want to give back to the community – by teaching children about the arts, by entertaining audiences and by building something that is bigger than themselves.
Ottawa has among the highest property taxes in the country, and the highest user fees in the country. My question for the city clerk who drafted this budget and considers the arts his “lowest possible priority,” is that in a city that takes so much from its residents, why do you see it fit to so singularly punish those who give so much back?
I could go on at length about the contributions that arts and culture makes to the local community, but frankly, it’s an argument I’m sick of making because it so often falls on deaf and ignorant ears. The reality is that investment in the arts is good economically (see Broadway) and socially (see countless research papers on the affect of arts education on youth crime). If you don’t see that value, then you’re welcome to live in the drab, lifeless bureaucratic city that you deserve.
If you believe the arts have a place in cities, then I need your help. Please, take action, and write your city councilors – all of them, and tell them that cutting the arts completely is not the way to balance a budget. Email your friends, and tell them about what the City is planning to do with their city. Get them involved. The only way to fight this is to make it clear that the residents of this city value more than just a stable government paycheque – that they want the city to live up to its potential and attract people with arts and festivals, rather than being the butt of the rest of the country’s jokes about boring cities.
An example letter is here, and you can find your councilor’s email address here.
Please, spread the word, and don’t let our City Council decimate culture in Ottawa.