Mayor Rob Ford is planning a major overhaul of City Hall arts funding that would increase grants for cultural groups and slash art programs run by city staff.
In a proposal to be made public on Sept. 19, Mr. Ford will recommend cutting in-house arts programs and funneling the savings to the Toronto Arts Council, an arms-length city granting agency.
The measure directly counters a report from city manager Joe Pennachetti that recommends cutting 10 per cent from all arts funding, including up to $6-million in grants to high-profile organizations such as the Toronto International Film Festival and Canadian Opera Company.
Mr. Pennachetti's proposal stirred immediate outrage in the arts community, especially after sources confirmed on Friday that the pitch included eliminating funding to organizations where city grants make up 5 per cent or less of the operating budget and terminating all grants under $10,000.
But in an effort to distance Mr. Ford from the city manager's politically contentious plan, a senior official in the mayor's office said on Friday afternoon that the Mr. Ford opposes such blunt, across-the-board cuts to the arts.
The city spends roughly $48-million on various arts programs, according to the official. Half of that goes towards city-managed spending programs, and half goes to grants to community arts organizations.
The official said Mr. Ford wants to shrink the city-run half – including staff management of events such as Nuit Blanche – and divert savings to grants programs, which are preferable because they are often leverage matching private-sector contributions and put money in the pockets of artists rather than bureaucrats.
"We know that money we spend on arts does have an economic impact," said the official. "Ideally we want to make the grants pile bigger."
News of the mayor's counterproposal brought a wave of guarded relief over Toronto's arts community. Jeff Melanson, executive director of the National Ballet School of Canada and the mayor's volunteer arts adviser, said he was thrilled the mayor would oppose Mr. Pennachetti's cuts to grants, but warned the city could still lose arts funding under Mr. Ford's proposal.
"This is potentially good news," said Mr. Melanson, who took the job as arts adviser on the condition that Mr. Ford would not cuts arts programs. "This new idea of consolidating arts funding under [the Toronto Arts Council]will require some further study. We have to be very careful that we're not losing something here."
By midday Friday, the Toronto arts community had mobilized en masse against the city manager's proposal, which will be made public on Monday. An online petition opposing arts cuts ballooned to more than 3,000 signatures, and principals with some of the city's largest cultural organizations were working political back-channels to unravel Mr. Pennachetti's proposal.
Their lobbying apparently worked. "It became clear that cutting TIFF was going to blow up in the mayor's face so big and so bad that there would be no coming back," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a frequent critic of Mr. Ford's.
The executive committee will meet to examine Mr. Pennachetti's proposals on Sept. 19. Most of his suggestions, if approved by executive, will feed in to 2012 budget deliberations.