Is the city doing its fair share to support the arts scene?
The industry is clearly thriving throughout the province, and Sudbury is no different.
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk said during her June 21 State of the City address that helping Sudbury become a more culture-friendly place was a “top priority.”
This makes it clear the provincial climate is right, and Sudbury not only has the resources to be a cultural hub, but also the desire — in theory, at least.
In application, the story reads a little differently. Sure, cultural industries provide more than 250,000 jobs within Ontario, and there are hundreds of cultural attractions right here in our own backyards, but what exactly is the city doing to make Sudbury a more arts-friendly place?
That’s normally where a quote from someone who promotes arts in the city would go. Unfortunately, there is no real voice for arts at city hall. Greater Sudbury has no one of the sort.
Initiatives with a “culture” tag typically get deferred to the department of tourism, programs and partnerships, or perhaps into the “economic development” realm — none of which are really specific to the arts. There are departments for the airport, environmental services and bylaws, but nothing for arts.
The city has, however, identified arts and culture as a driving “engine” in the city. Efforts were put in place to monitor the city’s cultural resources when a Toronto-based consulting firm was hired to “consolidate” the city’s arts resources.
Greg Baeker, founder of AuthentiCity, said the city should be commended for taking on the project when many other Canadian cities hadn’t.
The Greater Sudbury Development Corporation allotted $41,000 to the Cultural Mapping Project, indicated in a quarterly report they issued in 2010. According to the city, the final cost of the project rang in near the $50,000 mark.
Information gathered by AuthentiCity was presented on a website launched in October 2011. It catalogued the artists, arts organizations and events in the city, which number in the hundreds.
The numbers don’t lie — Sudbury has a lot to offer in terms of arts and culture. While there are literally hundreds of creative outlets, many continue to see Sudbury as a rock town.
There are ways to change that perception, though.
Cities like Kingston, with a population of about 40,000 people less than Sudbury, have an entire department within the city dedicated to culture services. Stephanie Earp, the communication officer with the culture services department, said in 2010, the city passed a cultural plan.
“The plan marked a major milestone in municipal planning and policy development as it recognized culture in all its forms as a renewable resource that can ... create wealth and improve the overall quality of life of the community,” the report stated.
The Kingston Arts Council is now given $100,000 annually to cover its operating costs, and is allotted $480,000 to distribute to deserving arts organizations.
At one time, the independent agency that oversees most of these tasks in Sudbury was given as much as $30,000 annually by the city to be the voice for artists. For the last two years, they haven’t received a dime.
What is now known as the Sudbury Arts Council was founded in 1973 with a mandate to “connect, communicate and celebrate” the arts. Every month, the SAC sends out an email bulletin to nearly 1,000 people highlighting local arts and cultural events.
They have a database of local artists on their website, and “advocate on behalf of the arts community and raise the profile of the arts.”
John Lindsay, who currently serves as chair of the SAC, said it’s challenging for the organization to fulfil its mandate with no money.
After being denied any sort of financial assistance in 2011, Lindsay and others from the SAC’s board of directors met with city staff to improve their proposal.
As per suggestions made by Meredith Armstrong, manager of tourism and culture, and Ian Wood, director of economic development and a former economic development officer, the SAC continued to publish its bulletin, maintain its website, obtain letters of support from local artists and exhaust its operating funds.
In 2012, they were denied funding again.
“Having achieved these goals, we are curious as to what else we need to do (to access funding),” Lindsay wrote in the most recent bulletin.
Other external organizations said the work done by the small SAC is quite impressive.
“The results the SAC is able to achieve with only a minimal part-time staff person ... and a committed group of volunteers rivals that of many other community arts councils across the province, including those councils that have several full-time staff,” a letter from the Ontario Arts Council said.
Community groups and artists agree.
“Over the years, the SAC has provided the Art Gallery of Sudbury with a strong level of support,” a letter signed by Karen Tait-Peacock, executive director of the gallery, stated. “The bi-monthly online newsletter is a valuable resource for ... arts and culture groups within the city.”
Letters came from organizations like Theatre Cambrian and the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario as well as individual artists. Even Jeff Pafford, the recreation co-ordinator at the city, asked the SAC to continue promoting its events.
So why isn’t the city interested in helping them out?
The Arts and Culture Grant Advisory Panel, made up of community members Anne Finlay, Christine Sansalone, Courtney Folz, John Stopciati and Mark Mannisto, as well as city councillors Jacques Barbeau and Ron Dupuis, is responsible for determining which local arts groups received funding.
A total of $77,600 was given to 23 different arts associations, with the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association receiving the largest sum — $20,000.
A total of 35 groups applied for funding, according to Armstrong. The other category of arts funding — the Major Arts and Culture Grant — saw the distribution of $496,000 among fewer than 15 applicants.
“The City of Greater Sudbury is committed to fostering an environment which promotes the pursuit of excellence in arts and cultural experiences,” the request for decision stated.
None of the councillors on the Arts and Culture Grant Advisory Panel responded to emails about why they opted to not fund the SAC.
Armstrong, the city’s voice of tourism and culture, said funding was given to “organizations that are doing visible things.”
“It’s about supporting projects that are engaging communities,” she said. “It’s seen as an investment.”
Why the SAC isn’t considered an “investment” may be another discussion entirely, but a model like the one used in other cities might just make sense. If Sudbury truly wants a flourishing arts community, like we say we do, it needs to be supported.
Someone or some group’s full-time job has to be bringing together the arts and promoting them. There are individuals doing great things in Greater Sudbury, but how much greater could they be with a little more support?