RDSO’s request for $125,000 of annual city funding was denied over timing, not merit

RDSO’s request for $125,000 of annual city funding was denied over timing, not merit

Orchestra told to return to council with request during 2019 budget process

As a 30-year “cultural asset” to the city, the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra is seeking $125,000 of annual operating funding from city council for sustainability’s sake.

But the request was denied this week in a close 5-4 vote — not because councillors disputed the value of the RDSO, which delivers professional concerts, as well as a variety of youth programs, including Music Plus Explorers and Choir Kids.

Rather, the majority of city councillors reasoned that mid-year is not the time to consider such a request. The RDSO was advised to bring back this “ask” during 2019 operating budget discussions early next year.

Coun. Michael Dawe believes the RDSO made a good case for why it’s deserving of steady municipal funding. He was among those in favour of supporting the RDSO (along with Councillors Ken Johnston, Dianne Wyntjes, and Buck Buchanan).

“The symphony adds a lot to this community,” but has to plan its season a couple of years in advance “and has a payroll to make,” said Dawe.

Johnston made an impassioned argument for supporting the orchestra, “considering its social and cultural and financial impact.” He estimated the amount requested would only cost each Red Deer ratepayers 30 cents a month — which is good value for the money.

But Tanya Handley was among the majority who felt the timing wasn’t right. “This has nothing to do with merit…Given the amount of requests we get for support, I feel it’s more fair to deal with it during the budget,” she said.

The orchestra has been receiving annual grants from the city’s Community Cultural Development Fund. The RDSO’s executive-director Chandra Kastern said 2018’s amount totalled about $57,000. But access to this funding is uncertain, she added, as many more annual requests are made by local arts groups than there is money in the fund.

At a time of provincial grant reductions, when attaining corporate sponsorships is difficult, the amount of cultural development funding received isn’t enough to meet the RDSO’s needs, said Kastern.

As an established arts organization, she also believes the RDSO should leave this pot for “developing” arts groups — as the title of the fund indicates.

Despite the request’s denial, Kastern wasn’t disappointed, remaining optimistic that councillors will be open to re-considering it in January.

She said the RDSO wants to pitch the idea that arts organizations are as valuable to a community as recreational organizations, and are as deserving of on-going funding as a library or museum.