Volume 93, Issue 53

Thursday, December 2, 1999


Ballet dances on a different foot

Ballet dances on a different foot

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

Since 1994, the provincial government has cut funding to the Ontario Arts Council, an agency which distributes funds to arts organizations throughout the province. Each year, the numbers steadily decline and the programs falling under the OAC's portfolio seek other avenues for financial support.

Kiersten Gunter, communications officer at the OAC, said the bulk of the cuts came three years ago. However since then, the funding has flatlined. "It has been steady until a week and a half ago [when] we got wind of a $250,000 cut."

The National Ballet Company of Canada is no stranger to these cuts, as they received a 40 per cent cut in provincial government funding in 1994-95. The slash came mid-year, therefore not too many adjustments were made during that time frame. Over the last five years, the company has suffered a $2.9 million loss in funds, however they have managed to recover their losses through private funding, said Valerie Wilder, the company's executive director.

"With a large institute such as ours, we rely on 30 per cent [in] government funding. When that gets cut, you can't make it up overnight, but with endowments we've been able to keep going," she said.

Wilder added the National Ballet Company receives most of its support through capital projects such as buildings, as donators are more inclined to spend their money on something tangible rather than a single production where their names would only appear in the program on specific nights.

Privately funded arts communities do exist in the United States, Wilder said, where endowments are built up over the years and eventually can sustain the organization when cuts are made. "In the U.S. people realize that if [they] don't give now, then there will be no local ballet. But [Toronto] is used to having ballet and it's hard to get across this paradigm that it won't be here if there's no support."

The National Ballet School has sought other paths of support, including fund-raising. In 1995-96, the school received a 100 per cent cut in government support and as a result, it stopped touring and only put on workshops.

Steve Johnson, public relations officer at the school, said he did not believe such extensive cuts were made prior to the last six years and some sacrificing and re-arranging was in order.

"Our core stuff didn't change," Johnson said. "We used to do national tours and performance, but with government cuts we've removed the performance portions and only hold workshops for ballet instructors and auditions."

While Johnson said he does not know what will happen in terms of government funding next year, he knows the school will survive as long as there exists a passionate desire to dance.

The Grand Theatre in London has also been faced with a similar situation as the National Ballet Company and School. In the past five years, the Grand has had its funding cut from $250,000 to $60,000. While provincial cuts are not the source of all their financial difficulties, the losses certainly have not helped, said Peter Stephenson, administrative director at the Grand.

However, Stephenson added the provincial government's endowment fund, in which the government matches every dollar made by the arts organization, will help the theatre survive in the coming years.

"This is the replacement money from the government. It is good for some people, but the smaller companies will have trouble because they don't have endowments. They function hand-to-mouth. Any fund-raising they do will only sustain their operations."

When the provincial government took office in 1995, it was faced with an $11.6 million deficit. Cuts to all arts communities were made to get the budget on its way, said Rui Brum, communications officer for Helen Johns, the Citizenship, Culture and Recreation Minister.

The endowment fund is considered a remedy to this deficit and was put into operation in March 1998, by Isabelle Bassett, the former minister. The money for endowments is administered by the Ontario Arts Council and it encourages organizations to think ahead, Brum said. "[The endowment fund] helps for long range sustainability and by matching funds [the organizations] aren't just saving but they're having the tools to move forward.

"The government matching system will also encourage private enterprise. The U.S.' private organization is a model and something we need to approach in the 21st century," he added.

Rob Wellan, public relations officer at the Grand Theatre said London is on the verge on something very exciting for the upcoming century. "Maybe for 2000 we'll see an resurgence and people with a little more enthusiasm."

Wellan added London is a bubbling city with many writers, theatres and poets. However, the city's economic changes are causing repercussions for the theatre, as ticket sales decline. "The economic forces are causing huge changes for the city. We've seen Labatt's go and London Life was bought by Great West Life. London is now what is called a blue-collar town," he said.

To Contact The Campus and Culture Department:

Copyright The Gazette 1999