Halifax regional council’s budget committee has voted to reject a proposed 55 per cent cut to arts funding; now intending to boost arts grant funding.
The option to slash arts funding was proposed by municipal staff along with many other cuts meant to save the $13 million it needs to stick to its tax plan.
The proposed cut caused a stir in the local arts community. Dozens of artists, community members and leaders of arts groups spoke out against the proposed cut at last week's budget committee meeting. Today, the municipality seems to have listened.
After a long discussion, the committee agreed the arts were a vital part of the city.
“I might not always understand it, but I sure as hell know it’s important,” said Mayor Mike Savage during the discussion.
The committee voted to instead increase funding by $125,000. If the budget is approved, this would be a big reversal of the proposed plan.
One of the people who spoke against the cut was Sebastien Labelle, the executive director of the Bus Stop Theatre Co-op.
“We’re extremely relieved. I'm obviously extremely pleased and relieved about the direction that council has decided to take,” said Labelle.
The Bus Stop Theatre is a space on Gottingen that prioritizes plays and performance art from local artists. It hosts Outfest, portions of Halifax Fringe, and many local theatre events—there’s even a sitcom being filmed there right now.
“That 55 per cent cut would have been totally devastating and debilitating. We’d have to cut staff, and we’d have to charge more for rentals, making us less accessible to artists wanting to use our space,” said Labelle.
The Khyber Centre, Eye Level Gallery and the Centre for Tapes were some of the other groups that spoke out against the proposed cut.
“It was heartening to see these groups come out and fight for the arts,” said Labelle, “we’ve been so focused internally since COVID, it’s great to remember who’s out there.”
Labelle said the Bus Stop Theatre was in “panic mode” when the cut was proposed. He’s happy to get back to work networking with artists and preparing for shows and festivals.
Labelle wants people to see the reversal of plans as an investment.
"The more you invest in the arts, the more you invest in the quality of life in a city, in a healthy, vibrant society than at the other end.”