Winnipeg Arts Council surprised by end of public art program after 20 years

Winnipeg Arts Council surprised by end of public art program after 20 years

The Winnipeg Arts Council says it’s surprised the city plans to provide it with no money this year for public art, in a move that effectively cancels a 20-year program that left a legacy of large installations across the Manitoba capital.

The City of Winnipeg’s draft budget for 2024 shows the Winnipeg Arts Council will not receive a penny for public art for the first time since the program was created in 2004, the final year of the Glen Murray mayoral administration.

Throughout Sam Katz’s tenure in the mayor’s office (2004-14) and Brian Bowman’s first term as mayor (2014-18), the city provided the arts council $500,000 a year for public art.

That grant was reduced to $250,000 in 2019 and then $125,000 in 2022.

The reduction of the grant to zero dollars in this year’s draft budget, which was released last week, came as a “complete surprise,” said Carol Phillips, the Winnipeg Arts Council’s executive director.

The end of the grant was not communicated to her prior to the release of the budget on Wednesday, she said.

Colin Fast, a spokesperson for Mayor Scott Gillingham, said some funding remains for public art elsewhere within the capital budget, embedded in other line items.

“The specific grant was removed as part of an overall review of grants to streamline them to reflect the Strategic Priorities Action Plan,” said Fast, referring to an effort to canvass the spending priorities of city councillors.

More funding for public art could be directed to downtown Winnipeg next year, Fast added.

A woman poses for a photo in front of a shelf lined with books.
Winnipeg Arts Council executive director Carol Phillips said she plans to appear before council to request the restoration of the public art budget. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Phillips said the decision is disappointing, as the arts council will have no role in commissioning public art after developing expertise in the area for two decades.

“The Winnipeg Arts Council is supposed to be a cultural adviser, according to the mandate we’ve been given by the city,” she said.

The city’s standing policy committees will hold public hearings on the budget in a series of meetings beginning March 1. Phillips said she plans to appear before council to request the restoration of the public art budget.

The city still funds the Winnipeg Arts Council’s other operations. The city plans to provide the arts council with $4.6 million worth of funding this year, an increase of 1.6 per cent over 2023.

That restores the arts council’s annual funding to 2019 levels — a Gillingham promise during the 2022 civic election campaign.

This year’s budget also includes a new $500,000 capital grant to downtown arts institutions.

Fast said the money was requested by “major arts institutions” in downtown Winnipeg “to leverage additional funding sources for major capital projects.”

City council meets to consider the draft budget on March 20.

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