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Cutting $1 from arts funding hurts city coffers $17

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s cultural adviser Jeff Melanson says eliminating or reducing funding to the arts would be a big mistake, and plans to deliver that message to the city’s executive committee Thursday.

“It would be a misdirection to reduce those (grants),’’ Melanson, executive director of the National Ballet School, said in an interview Wednesday.

The city’s executive committee is set to pore over a lengthy KPMG report that presents “options’’ to the city to trim spending. The city faces a whopping shortfall in its 2012 budget of up to $774 million.

Arts and cultural groups in the city receive about $19 million from the city’s Community Partnership Investment Program (CPIP), according to the KPMG report. The report suggests the city would see a “high level’’ of savings eliminating or reducing CPIP.

But the consulting report also notes that groups receiving funding from CPIP could see their programs “compromised.’’

Other services such as libraries, policing and snow removal are also facing potential cuts, and well over 150 individuals and groups have signed up to speak at Thursday’s meeting to defend those services.

Melanson, who will be leaving Toronto soon to become president of Alberta’s prestigious Banff Centre starting Jan. 1, said “every $1 saved in arts grants is going to end up costing the city $17.’’

Cuts to arts funding would see the city lose money in the end because its reputation as a creative leader would be damaged, Melanson argues.

“It’s both a business draw and important to the quality of life in the city,’’ he added.

Another arts-related option identified in the KPMG report is for Toronto to sell or lease one or more of its three city-run theatres in 2013 to save money.

The city gives just under $3 million to the theatres – the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, and the Toronto Centre for the Arts, which is in North York.

Any cuts to CPIP would mean less for performing arts groups that use those theatres, groups such as Canadian Stage and the Toronto Operetta Theatre.

Jacoba Knaapen, executive director of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, says while everyone in the arts community is deeply concerned about the potential cutbacks, she is buoyed by the belief that city councillors “recognize and understand the positive impact culture has on our city.’’

Based on that “it follows they (councillors) will not undervalue the contribution culture plays,’’ Knaapen added.

Dan Brambilla, CEO of the Sony Centre, took a somewhat different tack. In a letter to Thursday’s executive committee meeting, he said management at the centre agrees with the options presented in the KPMG report – while at the same time holding to the belief Toronto will suffer without a vibrant artistic centre.

In an interview Brambilla said he is not opposed to the idea of the sale or lease of one or more of the city-run theatres, as long as the theatres maintain their mandates. St. Lawrence, for instance, rents space to as many non-profit performing arts groups as possible, and Sony puts on a broad range of shows that cater to many of Toronto’s cultural communities.

“If a sale or lease maintains those goals, I’m fine with it,’’ he said.

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