Chasing 'unicorn' Olympic bid while cutting culture, arts funding makes no sense, Farrell says

Chasing 'unicorn' Olympic bid while cutting culture, arts funding makes no sense, Farrell says

A Calgary council member is questioning the wisdom of exploring an Olympic bid at a time when city arts and cultural agencies say they're struggling to make ends meet.

City-funded agencies started to make their pitches for more money in the upcoming municipal budget to the priorities and finance committee on Monday.

The Calgary Arts Development Authority is urging the city to triple its funding from its current $6.4 million per year to $19.5 million by 2022.

And Heritage Park told the committee it needs extra cash or it will have to close down some of its exhibits and lay off staff.

Coun. Druh Farrell says council is looking to make cuts, not boost funding, as it assembles the next four-year budget plan to be unveiled in November.

'Struggling to rationalize'

"I guess the question that I have is we have so many fundamental organizations that provide incredible quality of life for Calgary and we're talking about cutting them and at the same time we're talking about the Olympics. And I'm really struggling to rationalize this austerity budget or the Olympics," she said.

"I just don't fully understand how we got to this point."

Farrell was one of three councillors, along with Sean Chu and Joe Magliocca, who voted earlier this  month against a plan to move forward with the 2026 Olympics bid process.      

Calgary Arts Development CEO Patti Pon says Calgary artists already receive the slimmest grants per capita compared with other cities.

"I believe we have demonstrated and put a case forward for why a transformational increase to our budget could make a significant difference to the possibilities for our city in the 21st century," she said.

Farrell says Calgary needs to bolster arts and culture offerings in the city now, not eight years from now.

"So to put all of our hopes and dreams on one unicorn event, and in the meantime we do nothing or we cut, doesn't make any sense to me," she said.

"I mean, are we willing to let Heritage Park fall into disrepair? It's a really important facility. We are hearing from Telus Spark. That's a super important facility. So where do we go from here?

"That's a discussion that we're committed to having."