Artists going to have to get very creative to make $12,000 cover $65,000 in expenses.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON April 4, 2011 – They came in looking for $65,000. to stay alive, said they could settle for $40,000.and got $12,000.which isn’t going to take them very far. The request to have this pittance given to the organization was put forward by Ward 1 councillor Rick Craven, who represents the city on the Creative Burlington Board He also sits on the Burlington Performing Arts Centre Board. BPAC got their budget approved plus an additional one time grant for more than $250,000 to cover the cost of a web site, uniforms for ushers and a number of other items.

Creative Burlington started serving the community as Burlington Performing Arts but had to vacate that name when the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC) became real and so Executive Director Deb Tymstra renamed and re-branded the organization into Creative Burlington when she failed to land the job as Executive Director of the new arts organization.

The original Burlington Performance groups raised in excess of $60,000. for the Burlington Performing Arts Centre and may have made the very fist donation to that organization. But BPAC was able to create a much more powerful Board and went on to raise millions within the community.

Tymstra and her Board had to find another way to cover the costs of the three person staff and have funds to develop programs within the community. Become an Arts Council, get the city to fund us and be in a position to dole out grants from a fund given to them by the city and take out any bias or favouritism in grant giving that might result if politicians were to be deciding on grants amounts.

Tymstra has been a tireless supporter of the arts community. She did much of the trench digging work needed to give what is now the Burlington Performing Arts Centre the footing it needed to get started. It is fair to say that if the work Tymstra did had not been done – there would not be a BPAC today. Not that she’s getting much in the way of thanks for her hard work early in this century.

Today, her Creative Burlington is in tough, tough financial shape. Their Trillium Funding runs out in October and they are not able to go back to that well for additional funding so they had to come up with a new role for themselves

And that they did – but Council wasn’t buying what they were offering, even though the group had the support of former Mayor Walter Mulkewich, who not only wrote Council but stood before the committee.

Paul Mitchell, president of Creative Burlington explained they are “an arts services organization dedicated to celebrating, cultivating and supporting arts and culture in the city through initiatives, collaborations and partnerships. In short, we are Burlington’s arts council.”

And that was a bit of a stretch for the city’s Budget committee. Shaping Burlington, of which Mitchell is also a member, takes the same self appointed position, but that view wasn’t taken up by Council nor did it appear that staff were buying into it. The Executive Budget Committee turned down the request at their level because they felt the city did not have a policy about grants to community groups and without a policy council was just opening the floodgates and, as city manager Roman Martiuk put it, they will come flooding through.”

Mitchell wanted the Budget committee to reconsider the recommendation of the Executive Budget Committee which he said would “enable Creative Burlington to continue serving the community and to meet the needs identified in the City of Burlington’s 2006 Cultural Strategy and the 2008 Economic Impact Study of Culture in Burlington.”

Creative Burlington was after more than just the money needed to get through the next year. As Mitchell put it: “To be clear, this is not a one-time request but a first step in ensuring long-term investment in Burlington’s arts and culture community.” He was delegating to have Creative Burlington morph into the city’s Arts Council and be the arms length organization that would dispense grant money for the arts this group expected the city to dome up with. Mitchell wanted to take the whole problem off council’s hands and have Creative Burlington become the group that doled out the dollars.

“In our business plan”, explained Mitchell, “we outlined the services that arts councils provide. Briefly, they support the use of art to create welcoming, inviting, engaged communities. They support employment in the arts. They are a resource for the arts. They provide professional development for artists, networking, promotion of the arts, and cultural activities. They advocate for the arts community and they work with government to provide advice and create cultural policies.”

Recently installed as President, Mitchell brings years of experience as a newspaper executive and writer to the organization.

Recently installed as President, Mitchell brings years of experience as a newspaper executive and writer to the organization.

Mitchell put an Arts Council for Burlington in the context he needed to make his point.

“Some arts councils administer grants on behalf of their municipality. This arm’s length relationship between the City and the applicant provides non-partisan, fair and equitable funding for arts and culture requests. We hope that, one day, the City of Burlington will see the value in creating such an arrangement.”

Mitchell pointed out that there are 300 Arts Council in Canada and 30 in Ontario – and Creative Burlington wants to make that 31 by putting Burlington on the “have” list. He added that the Oakville Arts Council gets $77,500. from their council – and they are just a Town.

Now that the Budget committee knows what Creative Burlington wants Mitchell goes on to explain why the city should fund Creative Burlington? “Because the City of Burlington has very few internal resources to support arts and culture, beyond its physical facilities. Nor does it have the resources to implement its Cultural Strategy on its own.

“We are that resource. We are your arms-length organization that communicates with, cultivates, celebrates and supports arts and culture here. We are the means to cost effectively implement your Cultural Strategy.”

As pitches for funding go – this is about as bold as you can get. Mitchell went on: ” We have a plan, backed by 10 years experience as an organization. A business plan with objectives, actions and measurable outcomes. It is a plan for Burlington, and your investment will ensure that we will carry out that plan.

One Council member wondered aloud why Creative Burlington, the recipient of two Trillium Grants, had not been able to develop to the point where they were self sustaining with a range of programs in place.

Mitchell explained that Creative Burlington has a “full action plan. In it there are 17 actions and 51 secondary actions or activities to meet our strategic objectives. The Creative Burlington Board consists of: Paul Mitchell, Gord Langford, Michael Spinelli, Barbara Ramsay Orr, Fred Sweeney, Chris Paterson, Serena Lee, Harry Gelderman, Brad Hails, Rick Craven and Rainer Noack

“Our Executive Director recently met with school principals, Councillor Sharman and the Ward 5 trustees for the Boards of Education to discuss such an outreach program.”

“We are surveying our members to explore specific topics they require to further their arts businesses and the styles of networking that would appeal to them. We will seek partnerships with other arts organizations and the private sector to deliver these services. We will initiate networking opportunities and offer two to three workshops before next February, making sure we do not duplicate services or compete with other organizations.”

“All the items in our business plan” advised Mitchell, “have tangible measures for success. We are serious about the business we are in. We intend to meet the needs of this community and the people we serve. We are confident that we have the plan to do it.”

The problem is that to date Creative Burlington hasn’t “done it”. They exist in premises that are basically rent free. Membership is low, community involvement is light and community communications is hit and miss.

“Your investment”, explained Mitchell, “will send a message to the arts community. It will demonstrate that you are committed to supporting not only the facilities, but the people who make up and enjoy our arts community.”

The Creative Burlington community was a strong, perhaps the strongest, supporter in the early days of the struggle for a performing arts centre in Burlington and they would now like to see funds put into the people who are the bedrock of arts in a community.

“Your investment”, added Mitchell, “will show our corporate partners that you believe in the work we do and you join them in supporting us. It will demonstrate that you believe that arts and culture is an investment, not a luxury. It adds value to the community.”

Executive Director Tymstra has led the organization through a lot of  turmoil – now she fights for its survival.

Executive Director Tymstra has led the organization through a lot of turmoil – now she fights for its survival.

Few on council disagreed with the view that art was a part of the local economy and what make the city a place to want to live in. What they didn’t go along with was watching Creative Burlington decide that they should be the Arts Council this city needs.

As creativity goes – it was a fine piece of work. The stick handling was superb but the shot on goal was deflected.

“Without your support,” said Mitchell, “our Board of Directors will have to consider the value of our commitment and the future of the organization.”

Was the $12,000. they were offered an insult or a plea to hang in for the year while the city develops an arts funding policy and decides if it wants an Arts Council, and if it does, should Creative Burlington morph into such a Council. Or was it a hint that the nepotism with the organization has to be resolved. If Creative Burlington is to morph into an Arts Council it has to show that it can be scrupulously fair and never play favourites – something it isn’t doing with its staffing complement today.

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