WATERLOO REGION — The Creative Enterprise Initiative is down for the count, surviving on life support for a year. It appears Waterloo Region’s municipalities are easing the beleaguered arts organization down gently before closing the lid of the coffin.
Waterloo Region Record municipal reporter Paige Desmond reported that regional councillors voted to give the organization $141,000 in 2016, with the proviso that it shut down at year’s end. Kitchener and Waterloo councils agreed to provide limited funding for the year.
The organization has a year to transfer its work — whatever that entails — to other community organizations such as Waterloo Region Tourism Corporation and Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation.
Even if no organizations take over Creative Enterprise’s work, the board will be dissolved and the organization will close its doors, Desmond reported.
The organization’s draft budget totalled $317,205 based on previous municipal funding. It included $231,250 for four part-time and two full-time staff positions, $15,000 for website design, $5,000 for projects and $7,000 contingency.
Considering that two-thirds of the draft budget was earmarked for salaries, it’s not a stretch to observe that the year’s reprieve is more a temporary salary guarantee for a small number of employees than an investment in the production of art. This is symptomatic of what has been wrong with Creative Enterprise since its inception.
Municipalities have instead agreed to fund the organization with a combined $265,000. Kitchener and Waterloo approved $46,000 and $33,000, respectively. Meanwhile Cambridge has allocated about $45,000 in its budget for the organization.
Creative Enterprise is obligated to submit a memorandum of understanding to the municipalities outlining performance expectations and confirming that it will terminate operations at the end of 2016.
The announcement to shut down the organization follows months of controversy that challenged its effectiveness. The consulting firm of Overlap Associates was hired in 2014 to conduct a review after the board fired its inaugural chief executive officer.
The organization presented a new strategic plan at an all-council meeting in November. Officials confirmed the organization’s goals were to grow the Grand Social website and facilitate region-wide projects, the first being a digital art strategy.
The cumbersome Grand Social website has proven an expensive flop since being initiated amidst ridiculous ballyhoo a couple of years ago — largely because it provides an unnecessary service.
Studio space the organization managed in the former LCBO on Erb Street in UpTown Waterloo closed in January.
Since 2010 Creative Enterprise received financial support from local governments totalling a whopping $960,000. It has little to show for taxpayers’ dollars — other than the creation of a bureaucracy.
The arts and culture initiative was started by the Prosperity Council of Waterloo Region in 2010, replacing the former Waterloo Region Arts Council which was rendered redundant. The new organization failed dismally in its main objective of helping arts and culture groups become sustainable.
Before retiring last June as The Record’s senior arts reporter, I had never met a single local artist who said he or she benefitted from any service provided by Creative Enterprise. I interpret that fact as unqualified condemnation of the arts and culture initiative.
Local governments agreed to provide operating funding with the expectation that the organization would assume responsibility for distributing arts and culture grants — which it never did. Likewise, it failed to attract matching private sector funding, another primary goal. Ditto for assisting local business in attracting and retaining employees by promoting the region’s cultural offerings.
Arts and culture are vital to the social and economic health of any community, regardless of size. Arts and culture are deserving of public support, no different than sports and recreation. Just because Creative Enterprise flopped is no reason to reduce or discontinue public funding to arts and culture.
But it’s back to the drawing board.