December 22, 2015
To the members of City Council,
I, like so many of my peers, write today to voice concerns over the halving of the City of St. John’s’ Arts Jury budget and the simultaneous rise in commercial property taxes.
DanceNL received a 3-year grant in 2014. It represents just under 9% of our annual budget and has made an enormous difference to our young organization’s operations. Since we received this investment, we have hired a year-round part-time staff member, which has had an enormous impact in our ability to deliver services to our members throughout the summer. Our goal to hire a full-time permanent staff member still remains unfulfilled, however, and the probability of losing funding from the City in 2017 makes it harder to make that leap. It is, of course, no less necessary to the growth of the organization. It is merely less possible.
DanceNL represents the dance sector of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the vast majority of our members reside in St. John’s. Many of them will suffer from these proposed cuts. I would like to introduce you, therefore, to the St. John’s dance community:
Dancers are Educators
Many dancers have been training from a very young age, and often learn to teach dance in their teens. These individuals can go on to be lifelong educators. Dance teachers instill in their students confidence, discipline, and strength that are carried forward by young dancers throughout their lives.
Dancers are Small Business Owners
Most City dance schools are small, owner-operated private businesses. Some dancers also operate fitness studios within the City. They employ young people as well as experienced instructors and administrators. These businesses will suffer directly from the rise in business taxes in the upcoming budget. The educators who work for these businesses will likewise feel the effects of this rise.
Dancers are Society-Builders
St. John’s has a rich variety of social dance clubs. These groups meet regularly, in borrowed or rented spaces, to learn, to dance, and to socialize. These clubs are often a first social network to new St. John’s residents. They enrich the lives of longstanding residents. They encourage social and physical wellness in the city’s population. All they need are opportunities to grow.
Dancers are Social Workers
You may recall a council meeting last April where Mayor O’Keefe danced with a young woman who was about to launch a new social outreach project. That young woman was Chelsey Hicks, and her project was Dance Thru It, “an outreach program that aims to help the community express, release and work through whatever life is throwing at them.” When Dance Thru It officially launched in September, Chelsey was so overwhelmed by requests from the community that she had to go into intensive program development to deal as efficiently as possible with the demand. Starting in January, her program will operate at 2 city community centres, and she hopes that she will be able to expand to more centres where the program is most needed.
Dancers are Storytellers
Despite a dearth of infrastructure to support professional dancers in both the City and the Province, determined dancers like Sarah Joy Stoker, Louise Moyes, Calla Lachance and Andrea Tucker continue to work to tell their stories and the stories of this place through dance. Storytelling is vital to culture: it gives the audience a sense of itself and a sense of its community. It creates an environment of life-long learning.
Dancers are a Point of Pride for the City
As one could glean from one glance at the throngs of people who filed into the St. John’s Arts & Culture Centre this weekend to see Kittiwake Dance Theatre’s The Nutcracker, residents of this City are proud of their dancers. They come to the show annually, they bring their children, and they go home feeling good about the fact that the St. John’s dance community can produce of production of that calibre.
Dancers are Proud of this City
Neighbourhood Dance Works’ annual Festival of New Dance attracts dancers from across Canada and around the world. These dancers arrive in St. John’s for a few days in October and are struck by the place. They are inspired by the vibrant culture. They long for opportunities to return. Similarly, Karen Kaeja, the first Dancer in Residence at Memorial University, speaks eloquently and passionately about her time in St. John’s and encourages others to visit. The dance community here takes pride in the place where they live and work, and loves the chance to show visitors around, to talk up their favourite restaurants and shops, and to encourage visitors to come back again. They act as ambassadors for this city.
The budget passed last Monday threatens these dancers and their roles in the community.
It will force small businesses to charge patrons more, to pay employees less, or to close outright, which will discourage students from taking dance classes.
It will inhibit the growth of professional and social dance groups.
It will decrease residential access to wellness and recreation activities.
It will inhibit the delivery of social dance programming.
It will discourage professional dancers from working and living in this city, where already there is so little infrastructure to keep them here.
It will result in less dance work to tell the stories we need as a culture.
It will result in less dance work make citizens proud.
And it will make dancers less proud of their City.
That being the case, I urge you to reconsider these ill-advised cuts, and to reinvest in the arts as the economic driver and social necessity that they are.
*if you would like to voice concerns about the municipal budget, email the council at firstname.lastname@example.org
*there is an ongoing petition to council to raise the investment in arts to $4 per capita. There are copies at Fred’s Records, Rocket Bakery, Escape Quest, and the LSPU Hall available to be signed.