I would like to congratulate the Mayor and city council on the unanimous passage of the City of Guelph’s first Culture Plan. This is an important document, which lays out a roadmap for Guelph’s commitment to cultural activities until the year 2030. 

As essential as that document is, the work must begin now. Recently, you will have seen in the news that stalwart organizations such as Guelph Dance, the Guelph Jazz Festival and the Guelph Youth Music Centre did not receive operational funding (or received an almost unworkable fraction of the requested funding) from the city’s Community Grant program. Organizations such as these are essential to the fabric that makes Guelph a livable community, and not just the community we live in. In addition, it contravenes the second objective of the Culture Plan itself:

Adequately fund anchor culture sites and service organizations, including

Guelph Museums, River Run Centre, Art Gallery of Guelph, Guelph Public

Library, and Guelph Arts Council, with expectation that anchor sites will uplift

the broader culture community.

During consultations for the culture plan, it was often heard via public engagement that Guelph has a reputation for being a culture-rich city, and that it’s a reputation that is not always earned. Sadly, there is some truth to this. 

Arts organizations are already pressed for resources, and we cannot wait years for support and relief. Some statistics:

  • With 81,800 professional artists, Ontario accounts for 40% of all Canadian artists, almost double the number of any other province. There are 370,000 workers in arts, culture, and heritage occupations in Ontario, representing 4.7% of the province’s overall labour force, one of the highest proportions in the country. (Hill Strategies)
  • The Median Income for all Ontario workers in 2021 was $50,400. The median income for professional artists and culture workers in Ontario is $29,600, a differential of 41%. (Hill Strategies).
  • Out of the $323,600 awarded in community grants by the City of Guelph in 2023, $75,650 (23%) went to arts-based organizations, which were forced to compete with other non profit sectors.

The Ontario Arts Council via Nanos surveyed Ontarians on the importance of the arts for their quality of life and mental health, as well as their opinions towards the role of the arts in relation to community, diversity, and identity. 

The research revealed four key findings:

  • 80% believe the arts are important for their own quality of life, and 85% believe the same for their community’s quality of life. 
  • 79% of Ontarians believe that the arts are important to their mental health. 
  • 90% of Ontarians agree that an active local arts scene helps make a community

a better place to live, and 82% agree it also helps communities attract businesses. 

  • 96% of Ontarians believe that engaging children in the arts is important to their overall development. 

In addition, the 2023 State of the Sector survey by the Ontario Nonprofit Network (which the arts is a significant part of), described the sector as “running on fumes, headed into unprecedented territory”.  

We echo the urgentness expressed by the ONN in their open letter October 18, 2023:

ONN 2023 State of the Sector Survey highlighted several worrying trends: 

  • Arts organizations’ financial situations are on a downward spiral.  
  • Two thirds of the sector is facing staffing challenges, specifically around recruitment and retention and fair compensation. 
  • Infrastructure is collapsing without capital budgets to support its maintenance.
  • More than other sectors and industries, nonprofits are at the whims of our context.
  • For nonprofits, community crises translate into increase in demand for services usually without additional support, and broader economic uncertainty and austerity means declining donations and government funding. 

As we saw from the previous statistics, 85% of Ontarians believe that the arts is essential to the health of the community (and while the polling data is not available we have no reason to believe that it would be any different in Guelph specifically). This crisis puts many local arts groups and places where our communities create and participate in art at risk.  

We believe in the power of the arts to transform lives. Ontarians agree that an active and vibrant vocal arts community helps make a general community a better place to live.

With your support we can reach more than 78% of Guelph residents by making art accessible and by making organizations sustainable.  

78% of Ontarians believe that helping make the arts available to people in Ontario is an

important government investment. We hope we count you as part of that 78%.  

We are asking that you share the values Ontarians hold in public support for the arts and call on city to council to:

  • Significantly increase budgetary allocations for community-based arts organizations and festivals in a way that is consistent, reliable and acknowledges their essential nature, and allows for effective future planning.
  • Create a community support fund (such as CAIP in London) that focuses exclusively on arts and culture, so that non-profit sectors and services are not competing against each other for dwindling resources.
  • Materially commit to maintaining (both financially and physically) the viability of city-owned resources that artists depend on (such as the Guelph Youth Music Centre)
  • Acknowledge, celebrate and support the work being done in the cultural sector, and to truly recognize its importance to the community fabric.

To end where I began, I congratulate the mayor and council on the passage of the culture plan, but I would like to remind you of that public feedback: that we have a reputation in Guelph that is unearned. The truth is that our reputation as a cultural city has been built upon the work of organizations and individual artists who have worked tirelessly and with far less financial reward than their counterparts in other sectors. We are not asking for rewards, however. What we are asking for, is your help. We cannot do it alone anymore. Institutions and organizations are at risk, as is the health and livability of our entire community. Help us truly earn and deserve that reputation as a city where ideas can flourish, creativity is celebrated and supported and the value of a holistic, livable community is known. Help us live. 

Sincerely,

Damian Weston

Executive Director

Guelph Arts Council

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