It was a trying couple of days for local arts and culture organizations after discovering their municipal funding could be on the chopping block.
Prince George Symphony Orchestra general manager Marnie Hamagami learned Sunday morning of the report on the Feb. 24 city council agenda that included a recommendation to reduce her organization's cultural grant funding by $15,000 over the course of three years.
"My friend and colleague Samantha MacDonald from Theatre Northwest sent me an email saying, 'did you know about this?'" Hamagami recalled.
Already abreast of the city's plans to rejig the cultural and social grant process, the symphony director was caught unawares by the concept of a funding cut.
"When we asked, we were assured there was no appetite to decrease the amount of funding coming to the symphony," Hamagami said. "So we didn't think there was anything more than a streamlining of process happening."
To counteract the reduction, the orchestra's first move would have been to cut Pops in the Park.
"It's a great family kick-off event to our season every year," said Hamagami. "We were trying to scramble to figure how we could do it if we lost those monies."
The city's cultural grants program provided Theatre Northwest and the PGSO with about 13 per cent of their annual revenue. A recommendation to council from the finance and audit committee suggested the city could free up an extra $27,000 by 2016 for other non-profit organizations that apply for grants by reducing the allocation to the theatre and orchestra to 10 per cent of their average annual revenue.
The third major recipient of grant money, the Community Arts Council, was looking at an increase to their funding with a recommendation to bring their allotment up from eight per cent of their annual revenue to match the 10 per cent given to the other groups.
Ultimately, city council decided not to go that route, instead securing the theatre and symphony funding at their current levels for three years and bringing the CAC up to meet that 13 per cent figure.
"That recommendation before council was a little bit terrifying for us and to not only have our funding secured at its current level but to have it secured for three years is just a fantastic piece of news for us," said MacDonald, Theatre Northwest's artistic producer.
The theatre was facing a $21,600 cut to its grant funding by 2016.
Chief among the concerns over the potential council decision was the impact it would have on provincial and federal funding bodies that also provide grant money.
"So the message that would have been sent to those funders is that the municipality, the city of Prince George, is not supporting the organization anymore and those two funders would have taken that to heart," said MacDonald. "So I suspect it would have meant further losses of funding as a result. So we are just ecstatic that that's not the message that the city chose to send to the provincial and federal funders."
Although they weren't facing any funding cuts heading into Monday night's meeting, members of the Community Arts Council attended in solidarity with their artistic brethren.
"We knew we got an increase - that's definitely warranted - but more importantly, we were there to support the PGSO and Theatre Northwest in that reduction," said arts council project manager Lisa Redpath. "We just thought that was the wrong move to make."
But walking out of the meeting with even more money coming their way - up to $43,800 by 2016 - was a definite bonus.
"We're really happy regarding the arts and culture funding," said a statement from arts council executive director Wendy Young. "We're overjoyed that the two organizations retain their funding and of course, now we're all on equal [footing] and working towards the future to make our community a better place."
The orchestra and theatre representatives shared in Young's delight.
"If felt like a real vote of confidence in our organization and we really felt like [council] supported, in a very real way, arts in this community," Hamagami said.
Council's decision to also have an in-depth public consultation about the way it funds arts and cultural groups is also a major positive step and one to which Hamagami said the orchestra is looking forward to contributing.
"I also feel like there's a great opportunity for organizations like the symphony to offer our in-house expertise in terms of how we can help make this [grant] process more open to other members in the community, how the symphony can help other groups access these funds," she said.
© Copyright 2014