Friday, February 12, 2010

Billboard-Tax-for-Art Activists Sound Alarm: Councillor Reversals Mean TO Initiative Not in Clear Yet

This week has been a doozy for City Hall politics in the T-dot. Adam Giambrone, a young city hall councillor who is head of the transit commission and was running for mayor, basically crash-and-burned after a former lover took their relationship to the press--and, most importantly, after Giambrone lied to the press about same.

But this post is not about Adam Giambrone. (Though, if you're interested, my views are pretty much summed up by this column by Ed Keenan and this one by Royson James.) What this post is about is another matter at City Hall that has likely flown under the radar this week thanks to the Giambrone-schadenfreunde fest.

In the past few days,, the campaigners who helped push an innovative billboard-tax-for-public-arts idea to approval at city council last year, have put out the call that the fight for this initiative is far from over.

As BeautifulCity explains in a Tuesday email,

The billboard tax for art has been passed at $10.4 million in expected revenue to be fully rolled out in 2011. Approximately $1.8 million has been allotted to policing the new billboard bylaw. This satisfies one of our main objectives in starting and is cause to celebrate. The last key objective is directing the remaining funds to enhancing the public sphere via arts and culture. This is slated to take place during the 2010 budget process. Unfortunately there is strong pressure for Councillors to renege on their commitment due to the perpetual budget crisis, an outdated idea of how to create a successful city and the optics of supporting the arts during potential cuts.

And in an email sent out today, BeautifulCity notes that former supporter Councillor Gord Perks is now challenging the arts funding:

Unfortunately Councillor Gord Perks (Budgeting Committee, Ward 14 Parkdale / High Park) is coming out strong against the billboard tax revenues going to enhancing public spaces with art in the budget process.

This is a serious problem. It is also after he supported the idea in council ( see this video at 2:10 ) and had his staff giving residents the impression that he was in favour of using the funds to enhance public spaces when they were last calling in.

Gord is a great guy and has a history of really good work. We would probably vote for him again despite what we consider to be a critical but changeable lapse in judgment. He honestly thinks he is doing what is best for the community and needs to be respected for that. However, as a member of the Budget Committee he represents all of Toronto and needs to hear from you - especially if he represents you as a resident of ward 14.

As a result, BeautifulCity is asking citizens to contact members of the Toronto City Hall Budget Committee (particularly, but not only) Gord Perks. To find out more on how to do that, visit the BeautifulCity tips page.

Image of Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman's In Sit You at the Toronto Sculpture Garden by FranktheRabbit from Torontoist


Michael Wheeler said...

Hi Leah,

I was shocked to see Gord Perks had made this reversal. It's incredibly disappointing. I listened to him support this initiative with a decent amount of eloquence at City Hall during the debate and this about-face raises serious questions about the value of his words and the degree to which they can be trusted. Hopefully he will come around to not being duplicitous after all. He was one of my favourite counsellors before this.

Also related to the post above - I was at the CODE exhibition in Vancouver yesterday and a lot of the actual in person interactive stuff was pretty cool - especially the exhibits that let you create and collaborate on musicality.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your thoughts. I can see Toronto always being in a budget-crunch situation for crucial services, but yes, if someone says they will support a measure and then do an about-face, that's a problem.

Great to hear you are in Vancouver to see work firsthand. I look forward to hearing more about what you think is worthwhile.

Also looking at your posts on the Praxis blog, I just want to point out to Unedit my Heart readers that this post on theatre crit and civic arts policy is applicable to art as well:

Michael Wheeler said...

Thanks Leah. I like the new layout btw!