Knights of Aurora’s Cultural Roundtable

Remember the town’s budget survey that reported a desired reduction of cultural services by 10%.

If you’ve been following the town’s budget meetings there is every indication that council is poised to move in the opposite direction to these findings.

Not surprising given how some of the town’s elected officials chose to ignore feedback that does not align with their personal agendas. We witnessed this recently with the clear bag fiasco.

“Culture” is a very generic term, and where some elected officials prefer to hide in the grey area there are many tools at their disposal to manage the black and white aspects for which the town is spending specific amounts of money on.

One of these tools is the recently completed “Cultural Master Plan”.

Out of this was the creation of a “Cultural Round Table”. The purpose of which is to break down the silos existing in established cultural groups in town.

As outlined in the plan cultural organizations are plentiful and cultural offerings in town are diverse and robust, unfortunately the town sees fit to reserve seats at this kiddie table to the Library, Farmers Market, Historical Society & Cultural Centre.

With the exception of the Farmers Market the town subsidizes these other groups with substantial funding.

On March 2nd 3 of these organizations were invited to a reserved council budget meeting to make presentations.

The Aurora Public Library Board meets stringent provincial protocols.

They advanced a budget increase of 1.8%

The Aurora Historical Society, which isn’t a line item in the town’s budget was also included. They are asking for a $70,000 grant from the town even though they have shuffled off responsibilities to manage and curate The Aurora Collection to the Town itself. More on that in a separate post.

So what about that “self sufficient” Cultural Centre?

Well their proposing an operating budget – $380,000+ on top of the $150,000 the town pays for the building.

The board wants the town to cough up $10,000 more to pay for a part time administrative staff member.

You see they would have the money themselves if it wasn’t for their problems with fundraising which they clam their efforts to date were a “fully volunteer led aspect”.

Considered The Aurora Cultural Centre received a Trillium grant in 2013-2014 for:

$172,000 over three years to engage a full-time fund development officer to carry out the centre’s fundraising plan, which will diversify revenues and increase arts and culture programming in Aurora.

Here are the details: http://www.otf.ca/church-street-school-cultural-centre

If the Centre is being funded by the province to pay for fundraising, how is it that it struggles to operate?

Something doesn’t add up.

The Aurora Cultural Centre was supposed to be self sustaining after 5 years.

Those years have since past.

Here is an Error banner piece from 2008 http://www.yorkregion.com/yorkregion/article/561230 that quoted then Mayor Phyllis Morris:

“The town wanted to create an independently run corporation so it would eventually be self-sufficient, self-funding and prevent the creation of any sort of burden on the taxpayer.”

This noble, yet elusive aspect of sustainability was touched on in in the December 6th 2011 Auroran on page 3 when the Town’s solicitor weighed in on the flawed Cultural Services agreement. It reads:

“The Centre may be able to become self-sustaining through non-Town grant funding, fundraisers, donations, [and] the collection of fees for service and facility rentals.”

Fast forward to present day when asked the question directly by council at the 12:30 mark of the 2nd part of the video from the Town’s March 2nd budget meeting and the Cultural centre representatives had a different perspective of how they function:

That’s correct “The Centre will not be self sustaining, ever.”

Self sustaining?

Pshaw.

Instead it will burden Aurora taxpayers hundreds of thousands a year.

With an arms length organization consuming this amount of money council needs to be concerned with both how the money has been spent but also how effectively the money has been spent.

That all comes down to KPIs.

Unlike the library which reports out several metrics the Aurora Cultural Center provides only a single KPI which is the total number of visits.

Last year they are claiming 27,000.

How that number is arrived at, the breakdown between residents and out of towners is not quantified.

Unique visits is not captured, nor is their a reporting of attendance based on exhibit/event or by any meaningful demographics, just 27,000 visits.

At an operating cost of $377,000 /year that means it cost the town $13+ for each visit.

At a maintenance cost of $150,000 /year it cost an additional $5+ for each of those visits.

We’re looking at approaching a $20 cost to the town every-time someone enters the door.

Not $20 for each resident, or tourist, but each visit.

And as Aurorans we’re supposed to sustain this, because to even question it comes with the stigma that you’re some how opposed to anything and everything about Aurora’s Culture.

Aurora has always had a rich culture, and a sustainable one.
In this context it’s worth exploring a piece that ran on the front page of the November 23rd, 1944 edition of The Aurora Era:

One of 3 plans to honor Aurora’s War Memorial was effectively setting up a Cultural Round Table complete with a “general cultural centre”, yet the thing that sets this proposal apart is the nobility behind not trying to force one’s ideas on the town.

We don’t have to go back as far as 70 years to know that there’s something wrong with the current approach.

Just imagine selling the concept of an unsustainable Cultural Centre with a single KPI that costs $20/visit in an open and transparent process to the town in 2008 back when the whole concept of a Cultural Centre was first pitched.

What do you honestly think the public buy-in would be?

In this March 9th Globe&Mail article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/governments-need-to-deliver-big-infrastructure-projects-honestly/article23381120/ Ryerson University professor Murtaza Haider says “Proponents of big projects consistently low-ball the cost for fear that the sticker shock might prevent them from ever getting built. It is a very serious issue that goes to the heart of the credibility of all those who are building the infrastructure.”

Where’s the honesty behind a cultural infrastructure project like the Aurora Cultural Center that was lowballed to Aurorans as a sustainable organization yet only to find out 5 years in it has no intentions to be.

At budget time it doesn’t matter if you’re at the “Cultural Round table” or the Council table the spin is in full force.

Round and round the we go.

In order for the center to hold we require our elected officials to display the nobility and bravery of ArthurianKnights.

Not the limp wrist-ed approach that resembles building a flimsy IKEA table.

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