City of Winnipeg Cuts — No, It Reassigns — Coming Year’s Funding For Public Art


For the first time in two decades, the City of Winnipeg is not planning to provide the Winnipeg Arts Council with funds for public art this year.

From the grant’s establishment in 2004 through to 2018, $500,000 was allocated annually to the arts council from the city for public art projects.

The preliminary budget for 2024, which was released last week, has allocated $0.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES

Found at the Beaumont Station, the Rooster Town Kettle sculpture, designed by Ian August, near where the Métis Rooster Town was located, is one example of public art in Winnipeg.

Carol Phillips, the executive director of the Winnipeg Arts Council, says the organization made presentations to Mayor Scott Gillingham and councillors months ago in advance of budget preparations. She says a previous multi-year budget indicated the grant for public art — which had already been halved to $250,000 in 2019 and halved again to $125,000 in 2022 — would be phased out entirely by 2024.

“We were very concerned and aware that was a possibility,” Phillips says. “And then the draft budget came out, and there it was.”

The preliminary budget includes instead a new Downtown Arts Capital Program that “was developed in response to requests from major arts institutions,” according to a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. “The new $2 million in capital grants is a $500,000 annual fund intended to support capital projects led by major art organizations and institutions in the downtown.”

The city also plans to provide the Winnipeg Arts Council with $4.6 million in funding, fulfilling a campaign promise by Gillingham to restore WAC’s funding to pre-pandemic levels.

It’s not just new commissions that would be affected by a lack of public art funding, Phillips says. Existing works also require care and maintenance. And while an amount for public art is sometimes included in plans for other major capital projects, such as the Southwest Transitway as an example, “it’s sporadic and we never know if it’s going to be there or not,” Phillips says.

“We are not aware of any new city major capital projects that include public art at this time. So, worst case scenario, there’s no public art program in the city of Winnipeg, a program that is 20 years old, that has been a model for policy across the country.”

A city without public art is a city without character, Phillips says.

“It’s a city without access to art,” she says. “It’s wonderful to come upon these things and be surprised. Like it or not, (public art) can be thought-provoking, or it can just be beautifying. It can be so many things to the city, and every city of consequence around the world has taken advantage of this.