There’s a report being considered by the Executive Committee on Oct. 3 at 11:45 a.m. that recommends that the terms of reference for the City of Regina’s Arts Advisory Committee be amended to remove the committee’s responsibility for making recommendations on the disbursement of grants. According to the city, the Arts Advisory Committee would still be able to advise the Administration on “priorities for the new arts and cultural development funding stream” and members of the committee  would have “the opportunity to be a member of the grant review group.”

I’ve written a bit in this area in the past, most recently with regard to the committee denying a funding application submitted last spring by Creative City Centre. As I understand it, the committee functions as a somewhat arm’s length body composed of representatives from the arts community, city council and the broader community. It accepts applications from arts groups in the city, and disburses around $800,000 annually.

That sounds like a decent sum of money, but typically around two-thirds is ear-marked for the Big Three: the Globe Theatre, the Regina Symphony Orchestra and the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Depending on how many applications are received in a given year, that leaves maybe 25-30 groups scrambling after a little over $200,000. The Neil Balkwill Civic Arts Centre gets a sizeable chunk of that, and some grants end up being in the $750 to $1000 range.

It’s hard to know what the ramifications of this move would be. The city is supposed to be developing an official cultural plan, and the argument has been made by some that flagship arts organizations like the Big Three should be line items in the budget. In the last 20 years or so, the amount of money the city allocates to arts funding has only increased by around $50,000 (from $750,000 in the mid-1990s) so funding hasn’t kept pace with the growing amount of arts activity in Regina.

The decision is tied to a move City Council made in June to streamline community grants into four streams: cultural development, social development, sports and recreation and multi-stream initiatives. “Cultural” is a broader word than “Arts”, and can pretty much be interpreted to mean whatever you want. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are a part of Regina’s “culture”, so too is curling.  According to background material provided by the city (item EX12-42, pages 8-12 of the 172 page document), the Arts Advisory committee was consulted before the change was proposed and they were said to have viewed it positively. But within the arts community there will likely be concern about the move opening the door to precious arts money being siphoned off to fund other municipal priorities.