At a budget town hall meeting in East York this week, a spokesperson for the Toronto Arts Council (TAC) told residents she was hopeful the city will raise its current level of arts funding.
Despite pledges from three different mayors to increase the level of per-capita arts funding to $25, Toronto’s funding level per resident remains at $18 - last among large Canadian cities and trailing leading North American arts centres like New York City and San Francisco by a wide margin.
But thanks to new monies gained through a billboard tax, Susan Wright is confident this year’s operating budget will boost arts funding to the $25 figure long promised.
“The money is there so there’s no longer an excuse,” said Wright, director of operations for TAC after the meeting Monday, Jan. 7, at the East York Civic Centre. “The city now has the flexibility in its revenues to actually do what it has committed to doing.”
While mayors Mel Lastman, David Miller and Rob Ford all endorsed the idea of raising arts funding, the per-capital level remains low.
Wright believes it’s hard for politicians to endorse more money for the arts in the face of essential city services and programs.
“The arts is never as critical in a politicians eye as something like a student nutrition program,” she said. “It’s always possible to cut.”
Other community groups presented their cases for increased funding during the two-hour town hall meeting organized by Toronto-Danforth Councillor Mary Fragedakis.
TTCriders, an advocacy group for better public transit called on the city to restore $4.4 million in funding to the TTC’s Wheel-Trans budget, which it says has affected approximately 700 dialysis patients.
In September, the TTC board voted to advise riders service for dialysis customers would be discontinued as of Jan 1 of this year. Despite successful efforts by the Kidney Society of Canada to secure alternative transportation, TTCriders spokesperson Mo Shuriye said the arrangement is only for the interim.
“It’s a long term cut that will leave these people without access to secure and affordable transportation,” said Shuriye, who was accompanied by fellow group representative Gillian McGinnis.
In a presentation to an audience of around 20, McGinnis said the city should raise the current level of subsidy the TTC receives from the city, the lowest rate in North America at .87 cents per rider.
Krittika Ghosh, a community organizer for non-profit agency Social Planning Toronto also spoke during the meeting and called on the city’s budget committee to expand funding for student nutrition programs by an additional $1.25 million.
Fragedakis said the meeting was held to give residents and community groups a final opportunity to have their say before the budget is voted on by council next week.
“People have expressed concern to me about the preserving the services they value, such as libraries and programs for seniors and youth,” she said.
“These are the kinds of things they hold dear and they want them protected.”