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April 17, 2009

Major Arts Advocacy Organization Starves to Death on Del Mastro's Home Turf

The Peterborough Arts Umbrella (PAU) -- a respected arts organization that provided rehearsal space for musicians, digital media tools for filmmakers, and that organized key arts events in the city; and that advocated on behalf of artists -- has closed its doors after missing out on a $20,000 government grant.

Like many arts organizations, the PAU required on a patchwork quilt of grants as well as paid memberships. According to a report in the Peterborough Examiner, The PAU operated on grants from the City of Peterborough, Ontario Arts Council, Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Trillium Foundation.

A local filmmaker, who is quoted in the story, describes the role of the PAU well: "It was a place where young artists and musicians could jumpstart their careers." The organization's mandate speaks volumes.

The Peterborough Arts Umbrella is a multi-disciplinary, membership-based facility for working artists and community members interested in the thriving Peterborough arts community. We offer many services, including rehearsal spaces for musicians and other performers, a digital media centre with audio and video editing suites, and a 400-square-foot gallery. Since 1995 the Peterborough Arts Umbrella has been a facility-based organization providing visibility for the arts in our community as well as providing a supportive environment where artists in all disciplines and all stages of professional development in their careers meet, collaborate, learn, discuss, produce and disseminate art. The Peterborough Arts Umbrella is the only organization in the region that delivers both programs and services across all disciplines. The Peterborough Arts Umbrella is membership-based and governed by a volunteer board of directors who report to our membership. The Peterborough Arts Umbrella encourages discipline-specific collaboration with our membership and community through working groups and community partnerships. The Peterborough Arts Umbrella's unique artistic structure has enabled the PAU to remain relevant to the needs of artists in the community and in our region.

This is the very type of project that should be at the top of the list for infrastructure funding, but, once again, arts and culture funding screen remains off the radar for this government -- and on Dean Del Mastro's home turf, no less. Dean Del Mastro, you may recall, is the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Heritage James Moore.

I can't help but wonder if the PAU's mandate to advocate on behalf of artists might have led to arts dollars gravitating towards other arts organizations, assuming the dollars lost were federal. (The news article is a big vague. It sounds like the dollars lost were Canada Council dollars, but I'm not 100% sure. Can anyone confirm?)

The Peterborough Arts Umbrella is a primary advocate for the arts sector and as such plays a major policy role within our larger community. The PAU provides sponsorship for non-registered groups and organizations, providing charitable trusteeship for fundraising activities. The PAU is a member of or actively involved with key municipal, provincial and national stakeholders. The PAU has a permanent seat on the City of Peterborough's Arts, Culture and Heritage Division Board, a body which formally advises municipal government on issues that affect our sector. The PAU is an advisor to Artscape's Creative Clusters Development Program in Ontario and is also active in Visual Arts Ontario, Community Arts Ontario, Theatre Ontario, IMAA (Independent Media Arts Alliance) and NAMAC (National Aboriginal Media Arts Coalition).

We already know that the Harper government isn't big on funding any activities designed to help anyone speak up. And the PAU fulfilled that mandated brilliantly during the last federal election, helping to launch Ordinary Canadians for the Arts.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I thought someone should at least raise the possibility that arts advocacy organizations could be finding themselves to be the least popular kids on the arts organization federal funding block these days.


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Candace, it's great to get your perspective on this. You are such a fair-minded person - and you always have the pulse of the Peterborough arts community. I guess I, too, think back to the glory days (the Ptbo Square Days) although I didn't hold a membership at that time. I simply used to take my kids to the mall gallery so that they could be exposed to art in a very accessible public venue, for free.

It's very important that arts dollars be used wisely, so if you think that they are where they should be (back in the collective arts dollar pool), then I can live with this decision.

I just hope another organization will pick up the important roles that are now being left undone: mentoring young artists, supporting emerging arts organizations, and advocating for the arts when they have never needed a strong and powerful local voice more.

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. You are, as always, awesome.

Much as it'd be nice to be able to blame the MP and the Tories, the fact of the matter is that there have been a lot of decisions made over the past 5 years (since the flood wiped out the old offices) by the Board and past ED Dave Robertson at the PAU that strangled the place. The decision to move to 378 Aylmer was the killing blow; what org that had recently been existing rent-free could suddenly pay $4000/month? It was based on a faulty business model. And there were a lot of other moves made that were wrong-headed, poorly thought-out, or just straight-up stupid.

The PAU's been in serious financial trouble for at least 3 years (sometimes paying bills only via the line of credit, and going deeply into that), and getting that 20k would only have stretched out the inevitable demise. I expected the end would come soon; I'd hoped optimistically it would last to the end of the summer.

For the size of its funding, the PAU was a pretty inefficient and unfocused org - the numbers of people actually using the facility were dwindling (for a whole bunch of reasons), and in the three years I worked there almost nothing I would term 'advocacy' was done for artists. In fact, it tended to operate almost as an insider's club, in some ways, and never fulfilled most of its mandate. The orgs listed there were at best orgs that the PAU may have consulted with at one time, but hadn't in a long time.

Whatever funder turned them down for the 20k, they were right to do so. The arts funders are very careful about their juries being arts pros, so in effect, the Ontario or Canadian arts community has pulled the plug on the PAU. The gov't has no control over these bodies, other than setting their budgets.

All of this being said, it is very sad that the PAU is closed; I like to remember its earlier days, in the 90s, when it was in Ptbo Square and I was in high school. And its demise does cause a number of fairly serious problems for the folk festival.

As a longtime-member and sometime-employee, I think that it's probably a good thing - now the funding that had been soaked up and ineffectively used by the PAU will go back into the stream, and hopefully to orgs that have a more focused and responsible approach to public arts.

* (typo - 150th anniversary, of course)

My family and I spent a week in Peterborough a few years ago, right in time for the 15th anniversary of the lift locks. We were tremendously impressed by the arts programming throughout the city - from the art show down by the water to the free Natalie McMaster concert in the park. It seemed like no matter where we turned there was something wonderful going on, and I'm guessing the PAU had a lot to do with that.

Instead of cutting their funding, we should all be using them as a model for local arts organizations.

I know. I am just livid. This is like killing apprenticeship training for tradespeople and taking away the trades organizations that advocate on their behalf, all in one fell swoop.

It will also make it difficult/impossible for smaller arts organizations to obtain charitable status. (Who will mentor them through that difficult process?)

And it will reduce the likelihood that highly popular events that attract tourists and residents alike to the downtown core for weeks at a time will continue to take place.

And all for the lack of a $20,000 annual grant.

BTW -- Isn't that what our PM is paying ONE of new US press secretary buddies each month to boost his image south of the border? I read that on Twitter yesterday.

I am SO not impressed.

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