July 23, 2024

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Want a safer city? Fund the arts, advocate says

3 min read

Far from being airy-fairy, investing in the arts helps the economy, breathes life into key parts of the city and increases public safety, an advocate for the sector says. 

In his budget, Mayor Josh Morgan has given London police all the money it asked for — to pay for everything from drones and Tasers to a new light-armoured vehicle and SUVs — while other organizations didn’t get the municipal money they sought. 

Requests to expand community arts programs were either denied or were given a fraction of what they wanted. 

“It’s frustrating. I don’t want to single out the police, but when we talk about the value of the arts for the community, we always have to justify the greatness of arts and culture,” said Eunju Yi, the executive director of the London Arts Council, which represents the 7,000 artists and cultural workers who call London Home. 

“The arts and cultural sector is like the glue of the community. It gives us a balance, it helps us recognize why human interaction is important, provides a social and economic impact and makes our city more culturally diverse.” 

Art exhibits and live music also bring foot traffic downtown, which in turn make people feel safer, Yi said.

Funding for Indigenous and BIPOC artists rejected

“People feel safer when there is more foot traffic in the core area, and it increases the sales for local business owners,” she said.

“The growing homeless population in the core, they gather round. They take in the arts activations. They look calmer. Obviously we cannot address the acute symptoms or situations, but we are at least providing that mechanism for all community members to feel safer.” 

Some of the funding that was rejected in the mayor’s budget would have gone to paying for micro and major grants for Indigenous artists and creators in London and the surrounding three First Nations, grants for creators from “equity-denied communities” and for young artists. 

hatecopy mural
A mural created by famed Pakistani-Canadian pop artist Maria Qamar (a.k.a. Hatecopy) can be found behind Stew Kraft’s Service Centre at 200 Hamilton Road. (Mike Lacasse/CBC News)

“We need to grow our budget just to maintain the status quo,” Yi said. “The programs we proposed show our commitment as a city to truth and reconciliation, to making our city more diverse and inclusive through all the different practices we do as a community.” 

It was funding that could have taken the city beyond Indigenous land acknowledgements, she added. 

“The city made a commitment to truth and reconciliation and recognized that our population is growing largely because of international migration, so that tells us these community members are not getting equitable opportunities to fully participate economically, culturally, socially.” 

What was rejected:

  • Expansion of London Arts Council’s Arts in Communities program would have cost $250,000 in each of the first two years and $450,000 in the last two years of the four-year budget. It would have gone to pay for expanding the artist-in-residence program and the London Arts Live program, along with adding two new programs: ‘Cultivating Allyship through the Arts’ and ‘Youth Art Incubation.’ The mayor’s budget gave the program zero. 
  • Expansion of the City of London Community Arts Investment program would have cost $170,000 in each of the first two years and $345,000 in each of the last two years of the four-year budget. The program funds, in part, organizations such as the Forest City Film Festival, the London Lesbian Film Festival, Amabile Choirs, the Palace Theatre Arts Commons and the Forest City Gallery. The mayor’s budget allocates $100,000 per year for the program. 

Public consultations on the budget written by city staff continue through February before it’s due for final approval in March. You can read more about the budget process here.

 

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