Premier's cuts could hurt Blyth Festival says Garratt - Dec. 20, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Several local businesses stand to be affected by funding cuts initiated by Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government, mainly the Blyth Festival.
Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt says he’s disappointed that the government would cut funding to the Ontario Arts Council by 10 per cent, slashing $5 million from its budget.
Garratt says that the Festival just submitted its regular funding application to the council in October and he and other Festival employees are waiting for approval. If these cuts follow the pattern of previous percentage cuts, Garratt said, the Festival expects that its grant will be cut by the same percentage (10 per cent) that the entire program’s funding was cut.
For the Blyth Festival directly, he said, this means it’s possible that the Festival could see $16,000 less from the provincial government. In Festival terms, that means that two actors who would have been hired for the 2019 season won’t have jobs and won’t come to Blyth.
In other terms, Garratt said, the Festival may have to cancel Phillips Studio programming if those cuts are realized. For the Festival, that means three stories that won’t be told in Blyth, Garratt said.
Garratt said he was tipped off that cuts may be coming before the announcement was made.
The Festival has been a runner-up for the Premier’s Award, which is presented through the Ontario Arts Council, for several years. Garratt said he was contacted by a supporter who wanted to nominate the Festival again this year, but was unsure of the process. Garratt attempted to help the patron, but when he contacted the council, he was told that the awards were up for review and had been postponed indefinitely.
The cuts were then announced last week.
Garratt said he really doesn’t understand the thinking behind the cuts, especially when looking at a situation like that in Blyth, where the arts are such a clear driver of the local economy.
With two fewer actors coming to the Festival next season, he said, that means two fewer actors with jobs and two fewer professionals in Blyth to pay rent, shop at its stores and eat in its restaurants.
What has made Garratt really upset in the wake of these cuts and the public discussion surrounding them is how arts and culture are being politicized by many.
Huron-Bruce MPP and Minister of Education Lisa Thompson, for example, he said, has been a great supporter of the Festival over the years. The idea that arts and culture are somehow aligned with Liberal or NDP ideals and that they’re not “Conservative” is confusing to him.
For generations, he said, governments of all stripes have supported arts and culture with tremendous effect, so for Conservative supporters to look down their nose at arts and culture as being associated with another party or idealogy just doesn’t make any sense to him, especially when arts and culture are one of Ontario’s main economic drivers, generating over $25 billion per year, nearly five per cent of the province’s GDP.
Again, Garratt said that all of his concerns are speculative until the Festival’s grant application receives a response, but even at the provincial level, he said, the cuts are disturbing.
There are many smaller theatre companies, he said, that are living “closer to the edge” than the Blyth Festival is and these cuts may cause them to scrap entire productions or even close up shop.
Those decisions, he said, represent stories that won’t be told and potential success stories that won’t have a chance to be written.
The Ford government’s sweeping cuts announced over the weekend have made significant waves throughout the province and many of the announcements have connections to Huron County.
On Friday, a group of protestors set up shop in front of Thompson’s Blyth office to protest the tabling of Bill 66, which would significantly roll back environmental regulations in the province.
The government also announced that it would be revoking current and future funding for the College of Midwives of Ontario, a body which has seen government funding for the last 25 years.
One of Blyth’s newest businesses is Huron Midwives on Blyth Road, which was just honoured for its accessibility improvements.
Ellen Peel, owner of Huron Midwives, was unavailable for comment on any effect the cuts may have on her business when The Citizen attempted to reach her.
Further cuts by the Ministry of Education have also put Thompson under the microscope of the province once again.
Despite the fact that public consultation over education is still ongoing, Thompson’s ministry made further cuts to programs over the weekend. The Ford government is cutting $25 million for specialized programs across the province, which many critics have said will affect at-risk youth in some of the province’s low-income areas.