Cornwall Ontario as a community has historically poorly supported the arts. With an influx of seniors from communities that do support the arts it makes sense for some of those sports dollars to shift.
Sadly, that isn’t the case. The city’s 36 year old public art gallery, TAG Cornwall, is to close this year after the city not only cut its funding for 2015 and 2016 to zero, but also refused to promote its exhibits on the city’s facebook page, or help promote any of its shows and events. One councilor, failed Liberal MP candidate Bernadette Clement went as far as to suggest issues with governance when there were no complaints and the gallery had published that it had a new up to date charter as well as a new membership structure.
Only City Hall can answer why the ugliness to its public art gallery? They have invested a few dollars in smaller groups, but this year nearly 1,000 students will not be participating and visiting the gallery because of the cuts.
That’s tragic. Now word is that the City wants to let artists exhibit their work at City Hall. Those artists however will not be paid a rental fee or have their works purchased by the city. Nor are there grants from the city to support the arts as there is no city arts coordinator, a position allegedly abolished after a failed attempt to subsidize the Cornwall Comets which ended in a Cornwall like fiasco. A quote from another media covering the release:
“Artists will benefit by gaining some exposure while the City benefits from having our building enhanced with beautiful displays of art,” O’Shaughnessy said in a press release Friday.
“It is also a way for the City to show support for the arts and culture sector here in Cornwall.”
Earlier this year, council voted not to provide The Art Gallery of Cornwall (TAG) with any revenue that would allow its storefront neighbour to operate at full capacity.
The city’s media release explains the decision to hang local art at city hall evolved from initial discussions to decorate the mayor’s office.
Yet the City of Windsor, a community facing its own fiscal issues like many, is working towards an arts endowment of $2,000,000.00 spear headed by its mayor. Windsor has not raised taxes in nearly a decade while Cornwall averages around a 2% per year increase during the same period.
Local artists have few true venues, and now are losing a charity that would have been celebrating its 30th year in the downtown core; itself struggling with business closing signage and empty store fronts.
From the Windsor Star:
“What I’ve seen in other cities I’ve been to is a highlighted presence of visual art that really gets people talking and makes the community a more interesting place,” Dilkens said Wednesday. “Arts and culture in our community have a very important role to play.”
Though Dilkens is perhaps better known for trumpeting big-ticket items such as sports tourism, he has long supported the arts, in particular local theatre. He’s a patron of the Windsor Light Music Theatre, and has seen productions from many other troupes.
When he was still a councillor, he donated $30,000 of his Ward 1 funds to a Ward 2 project, a coloured bronze sculpture of General Brock and Chief Tecumseh being created by sculptor Mark Williams for Paterson Park in Sandwich Town.
“When people see art they start thinking more about it and become more accepting of different kinds of art,” Dilkens said. “Even if you don’t like a certain project, it can still start a discussion, which is great.”
Clearly Windsor, or at least its mayor, has a greater appreciation and grasp of the arts. Current Cornwall mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy has not been in the gallery,and may in fact have never stepped foot in it. During the presentation for funding this year one councillor, Claude McIntosh, actually read a magazine during the detailed presentation by President Wyatt Walsh.
The City of Windsor actually has an Arts, Culture, and Heritage Fund. Cornwall was only spending $55,000 per year to support the art gallery with almost no business sponsorship or other support. Members had to run bingo’s to raise an extra $15K per year to help keep the doors open.
Windsor invested over $40,000 in a recent round of funding that put that cash directly into practicing artists and groups hands.
While it’s nice to get exposure, without investment and cash there cannot be any industry, and art is an industry which when done right leads to tourism dollars. Over 60% of the sales of art at TAG Cornwall were to tourists with the gallery usually being the only tourist destination on Pitt Street which is the main thoroughfare of Cornwall’s downtown core.
The arts groups and artists themselves inflame the situation by fighting for the few crumbs from City Hall in Cornwall rather than working together to put pressure for more funding.
One group, Focus Art, actually discussed staging a coup to take over the gallery and instead picket it at budget deliberation time. The City and Councilors Bernadette Clement and Maurice Dupelle actually sponsored a Focus Art event in a mall with a broken escalator rather than use the gallery for a month as has been done in the past.
There was actually more support to keep the gallery open from outside the community than within after City Hall refused to fund the gallery including shifting about $12 K that was supposed to go to the Lift Off Balloon festival that died coming to the gallery.
A group suggesting that it’s an Arts Council did not issue any statement to support the public art gallery knowing that losing its only art institution would be devastating and tragic.
An even bigger irony is that council approved funding for a study on creating an arts centre for the city even though there is no funding for said arts centre. The Art Gallery, with archives running back to 1977, was not consulted.
In the end petty small town politics will impact generations of future artists as charities do not grow on trees, and are not as easy to set up as they were in 1980 when the Cornwall Gallery Society was formed.
What do you think dear CFN viewers? You can post your comments below.