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“Harassment” And “Governance Concerns” Lead Ontario Region’s Arts Fund To Suspend All Activity

The activities of the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund have been paused effective immediately with the region saying the move was necessary due to “incidents of harassment of regional staff and governance concerns related to the fund’s administration.”

The region issued a press release Wednesday night about the arts fund but it did not provide details on what exactly was meant by “harassment” and “governance concerns.”

Coun. Michael Harris, chair of the region’s finance committee, told CBC News the region has an obligation to provide a safe and harassment-free workplace, but could not provide specifics because he said it’s a human resources matter. 

On the governance concerns, Harris said the region was made aware of decisions being made outside the board’s policies and procedures. 

“These, of course, will be reviewed as part of the third party review,” he said. 

The Region of Waterloo Arts Fund is an independent organization governed by a volunteer board. It’s funded and supported by the region. Over the past 20 years, the region has invested $5.5 million in local artists through the fund.

The region says a third-party review of the funding model will be completed. The review will aim to make recommendations to the region on the future funding model for the arts fund “to ensure ease for local artists and value for local residents.”   

Regional chair, councillor resign from board

Regional Chair Karen Redman and Regional Coun. Kari Williams, who sat on the Arts Fund board, have resigned from the board, a spokesperson for the region confirmed.

In the meantime, the region says it plans to partner with the Waterloo Region Community Foundation (WRCF) for one year. The region says it will invest $350,000 to continue to support local artists. That funding will be administered by foundation.

“The new partnership will see WRCF collect, review and administer grant applications for 2024 as part of the foundation’s annual arts grant fund,” the region said in a release.

Concerns over arts funding cuts

The region said the foundation will add individual artists to its existing arts fund and create a second arts grants fund committee made up of local members of the arts community to review applications it receives from artists and collectives for funding from the region.

In January, some of the region’s arts leaders expressed their concern for the year ahead as the region cut funding for arts, cultural institutions and organizations.

The chair of the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund, Raechele Lovell, launched a grassroots campaign to bring awareness to funding cuts coming to local artists and groups, including the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund.

Photo of Raechele Lovell at the CBC K-W newsroom.
Raechele Lovell, the chair of the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund, has been critical of cuts the region has made to arts funding in this year’s budget. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

In an email to CBC News, Lovell said she learned the region was pausing the Arts Fund on Wednesday night.

“We will not be permitted to implement any of the equity programs that we were a week away from implementing,” Lovell said.

The Arts Fund had previously received $392,820 from the region each year, but that was cut by just over $39,000 this year. It was a move Lovell was critical of when she spoke about it with CBC K-W’s The Morning Edition in January.

“Directly it will mean that we will be able to fund less artists this year,” Lovell said in the January interview. “Most likely the prioritization of emerging artists program that we were looking to launch will need to be back-burnered.” 

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