After years of underfunding, council offering a lifeline to city’s arts community to help recover after COVID-19
Photos from Kelly McNeil/Sam Catalfamo/City of Brampton

After years of underfunding, council offering a lifeline to city’s arts community to help recover after COVID-19

The financial impacts on the City of Brampton due to COVID-19 remain uncertain, but the municipality has made plans to invest money back into the local arts and tourism sector, one of the hardest hit in the city. 

For local artists, their job is far from easy and far from predictable. Many rely on sales and donations to allow them to keep doing what they love and pay their bills.

The City of Brampton will be announcing Wednesday its steps to protect some of the hardest hit sectors from the pandemic, like the local arts scene. In a staff report,  the city noted that employment for this industry was already “highly precarious” before COVID-19.

The money is being reallocated from the 2020 operating budget from the Arts, Culture and Creative Industry Development Agency and the 2020 Festivals and Special Events Office. It will give $500,000 to arts organizations and individual artists that are losing revenue.

The aid package comes as the city attempts to get a handle on the financial fallout from the COVID-19, which could leave it with a deficit of anywhere between $44 million and $55 million by the end of the year, according to an April staff report. That report also notes that the numbers are only projections, and the real deficit could in fact be much more grim. It’s not clear whether this grant program will turn into a regular staple in the city, who will have many difficult financial decisions ahead. Mayor Patrick Brown has already made it clear that he is not in favour of a tax increase for 2021, raising questions about how the city plans to make up the significant amount of lost revenue this year due to COVID-19. 

Individual artists can apply for a one-time grant of $1,000 and art organizations can apply up to $15,000. In both cases, the organization or individual’s head office must be located within the City of Brampton for at least a year and they need to provide proof of revenue loss from COVID-19.

“It would be a shame to see people drop out of this life [of being an artist] because they couldn’t cope with this,” said Kelly McNeil, a wildlife painter based in Brampton.

She was pretty worried when the pandemic began and the government put strict rules on social gatherings. As a painter she usually teaches classes from her home studio and attends a lot of shows to sell her art. 


Kelly McNeil, a Brampton-based wildlife painter, says the grants proposed by the City of Brampton could help many in the arts community with essential costs of living.


McNeil is able to apply for the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) which has been helpful for her loss of income that covers her mortgage and utilities.

“The extra thousand would feed us,” she said of the money she could get from the city.

McNeil has been an artist her entire life and she has always been aware of the industry income levels and what she was getting herself into. This pandemic has been harder on her business than usual.

She paints mostly wildlife where she takes an original photo of an animal and then paints it. She’s won numerous awards across Canada and the world.

Photographer Sam Catalfamo almost saw his industry completely disappear during the peak of the pandemic. As a wedding and lifestyle photographer, he wasn’t allowed to operate his business for the past three months, now with restrictions easing he’s able to start working again.

“In the arts it’s already tricky as it is, let alone a pandemic on top of it,” he said.

Luckily, Catalfamo wasn’t hit as hard as some artists and had a bit of money saved up before the virus took hold and shut down much of society; he has also been helping out with a family business to make ends meet.


For wedding and lifestyle photographer Sam Catalfamo, he saw most of his business disappear as large social gatherings have been banned during the COVID-19 pandemic. He's had to get creative with his photography to attract new business. 


Throughout his months off, he was getting creative and taking photos of families from their porches as a way to keep busy and gain more customers. He thinks the City is doing the right thing and recognizing how important the arts sector is to the community, but that $1,000 won’t go too far in today’s economy.

He also touched on the fact that in 2015 the city ceased funding towards the Brampton Arts Council which resulted in its closure after 37 years. The loss of the arts council, a vital support for many artists in the community, is estimated to have caused the loss of up to 50 percent of the arts groups in the city in 2014. 

The City of Brampton has mostly starved its arts scene for funding. Comparing the funding provided by other big municipalities to the arts, Brampton does not fare well. In Toronto, the city provides approximately $25 per capita to the arts; in Edmonton, about $13; $28 in Ottawa; and $47 in Vancouver. Brampton provides less than $1 per capita. It’s a far cry from the hope of Brampton’s 2040 Vision, which foresees a city that will “support a mosaic of artistic expression and production.”

 “The arts council got de-funded before the police did,” he said of the move by council.


Compared to other large municipalities, Brampton provides very little funding and support to its arts community.


Catalfamo believes that reinstating an arts council within the city would be essential to help artists fund their projects and allow for younger artists to get into the industry easier.

Digital animator and multimedia arts creator Ajith Vasu thinks the city should be investing more money into programs to aid artists in building websites and learning how to sell online.

“People coming out and engaging is pretty much necessary,” he said of the industry.

In a poll done by the city, it found that 82 percent of individual artists need funding to sustain their business until the end of 2020, while 73 percent of arts organizations said they need more funding.

Festivals and large sporting events have been cancelled, postponed or modified for this year, hitting the tourism industry pretty hard. Most events had applied for funding through the city over a year ago, so 90 percent of the funding has already been given to its organizers. Six festivals or events have been approved and 16 sport events were approved for their funding pre-COVID.

As of March 13, the events had a choice to cancel, postpone or modify the event to fit physical distancing rules. The events that had already started making purchases with the funding can also cancel and be reimbursed by the city.

Similar to the arts funding, this money is reallocated from the Economic Development and Culture budget that has $967,000 available, this also includes the festival and events budget of $354,750.



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