Shameless programs at risk due to arts funding cuts in Ontario: what this means and how you can help
Illustration: Mallory Taylor
Dear readers, friends and supporters,
Several weeks ago, we received some bad news from our program officer at the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), an agency that provides funding and services to artists and arts organizations here in Ontario, where Shameless is headquartered. For the past four years, we have been receiving funding from a granting program called Publishing Organizations: Projects. Effective immediately, this grant program has been suspended and is not accepting applications. This decision means that once our current funding cycle ends on October 31, 2019, we will no longer receive any public funding.
Why is this happening?
As you might guess, it’s complicated. The OAC operates at arm’s length from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the government of Ontario. This means that although the OAC independently chooses (normally through juried competitions) who will receive grant money, the council is funded by the government; the government decides what the budget is, or how much money is available for the OAC to perform its work. Typically the amount of money allocated remains relatively stable year-over-year, with different governments making changes based on their own priorities.
Prior to the change in government in 2018, the Ontario Liberals set the OAC’s funding level at a total of $69.9 million for 2018-19. In December 2018, the OAC announced that the new Conservative government would set the OAC’s budget at $64.9 million, and would eliminate the Indigenous Culture Fund, an initiative set up a year earlier to support cultural activities and programming in Indigenous communities.
Unfortunately, when the provincial budget was released this spring, the news for the OAC was even worse: the budget for next year, 2019-20, is now $60 million. This means that the OAC has had to make some decisions about how to cope with this reduced budget. The council sent out a press release on June 20, 2019, announcing lowering of their administrative expenses, compensation (pay) freezes for executive staff, and reductions to grants.
What does this mean for artists and arts organizations in Ontario?
The impact depends on what kind of funding stream you are in. For organizations receiving operating funding – that is: predictable funding, often on multi-year cycles, for established organizations to help support their on-going work – there is an “across-the-board” (ATB) reduction of at least 8% from their last year’s funding levels. This is a big hit for any organization, and will certainly mean that some artists, writers, dancers, musicians, and performers will be unable to complete work, get published, launch programs, or perform their work as planned.
For some organizations who receive funding in project streams – that is: funding tied to specific projects, not necessarily awarded year-over-year, often with lower barriers to entry than operating funding streams – the news is even worse. Five OAC project grant programs have been suspended and will not be accepting new applications for 2019-20:
- National and International Residency Projects
- Ontario Dances
- Publishing Organizations Projects
- Theatre Training Projects
- Travel Assistance: Ontario Contact/Contact Ontarois
These programs supported 29 individual artists, 11 arts organizations and 9 arts centres in 2018-19. Many of these grant recipients rely on project-based funding as a pathway to support and growth into other funding opportunities, as they do not meet minimum revenue thresholds for operating grants. Shameless is one of them.
Illustration: Beena Mistry
What does this mean for Shameless?
First things first: those of you who have been following us for a long time may remember that Shameless operated without government funding for many years (11, to be exact!). We have done it before, and we can do it again. We know how to hustle and get things done on a shoestring and still produce a wonderful magazine and blog.
But — the funding we have received from the OAC’s Publishing Organizations Projects program has been transformative for us over the past four years. With these funds, we launched the Youth Advisory Board in 2015. The YAB is now an established and thriving group of young people providing leadership and editorial vision to our work. Every year, the YAB takes on new and exciting challenges such as running events, recording podcasts, and, this year, creating an entirely youth-written issue of Shameless to help us celebrate our fifteenth anniversary.
**Without project funding from the OAC, the future of the Youth Advisory Board is in serious jeopardy. ** 2015 was also the first year we began paying our contributors (writers and illustrators, both in-print and on the blog) a small honorarium for their work. (Shameless’s volunteer team members also started to receive a small honorarium per issue at the same time.) Although we have not yet had the funds to pay market rates, we know it is a big and important step to offer some amount of payment for people’s labour, and we had been looking forward to increasing our rates as soon as it was feasible to do so. We paid 147 writers and illustrators for their work last year.
**Without project funding from the OAC, we may be unable to continue paying people for their work. ** This also jeopardizes future funding opportunities, as arts organizations must pay artists to be considered “professional” and therefore eligible for funding.
Our grant from the OAC has contributed, on average, 30% of our annual budget over the past four years.
Illustration: Beena Mistry
What can we do?
We’re so glad you asked! We are already hard at work seeking out other sources of funding, both public and private. (If you happen to know a wealthy benefactor or head of a foundation, send ‘em our way!)
- Speak up about the importance of the arts.
If you’re in Ontario, you can write to your MPP or to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport (yep, even if you aren’t eligible to vote!) to tell them that arts and culture are important to you, and that you want to see arts funding restored to previously planned levels. The Canadian Arts Coalition has lots of resources on advocating for arts funding from both a cultural and an economic standpoint.
If you are in the Toronto area, stay tuned to our blog and social media for possible community actions around this — letter-writing party, anyone?
Subscribe to Shameless!
We need your support now more than ever. If you already subscribe, consider renewing your subscription (we’ll extend it as long as you like!) or buying a subscription for a friend.
Share your copies of Shameless with friends.
Help us reach a wider audience by sharing us around. The more, the merrier!
Ask your local bookstore or library to carry Shameless.
If they didn’t know us, they’ll know us now.
Share our messages on social media.
We will be Tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming about these issues in the coming weeks and months. Help us to amplify our voices!
Become a Shameless donor.
The more financial support we have from our communities, readers and friends, the more secure our work and our future will be. Consider becoming a Patron of Shameless at any donation level, or give a one-time gift. Any amount means so much to us and helps to sustain our work!
We are going to get through this, friends. Your support will be absolutely essential in the coming months as we explore all options to continue the essential work we do to support young, new and underrepresented writers and artists. Thank you for being there with us.
Shamelessly and in solidarity,