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Why hosting the Stones doesn’t add up

I think it was fantastic to have the Rolling Stones play in Halifax. But HRM funding and hosting the concert on the Common doesn’t add up.

Besides breaking the 257 year principle of the Common being a free and open space to all citizens, one is still left asking why HRM funded this for-profit concert when all other events in HRM undertaken by local groups are not equally funded?

Mayor Kelly reasons a $100,000 investment was worth an estimated $15 million economic impact. Then it should be reasonable for HRM’s community cultural organizations to expect at least proportional funding treatment by HRM, especially since they would be more likely to retain revenues in HRM than a visiting band.

According to HRM’s own report, HRM Arts and Culture Economic Impact Study, the local cultural community’s annual direct and indirect economic impact (GDP in 1997 dollars) is approximately $780 million. Therefore, HRM should be investing about $5.2 cash million per year directly into the local cultural community. Is HRM investing this amount? It is apparently a justified investment, according to the same Council that loves to sell the good name and profile of this city by citing the assets that are provided by local cultural groups. And to be completely fair, HRM should give all the local, tax-paying, cultural groups access to use the Common for admission-charging events too, despite having denied them that privilege for countless years…by citing the bylaw Respecting the Common.

The numerous local cultural groups receive very little funding proportionally to the funding of this one event, and even so, one of the key criteria of HRM funding to local groups is that they be as accessible as possible to the citizens. This, in effect, means keeping ticket prices low and / or providing free admission. The Stones concert tickets started at $113, hardly accessible relative to most events, certainly not free – an irony when tax payers paid $100,000 to host the event on taxpayers’ so-called own property.

Does Council justify its support because the Concert drew a 50,000-strong audience? I would imagine that together three locally produced festivals could easily outdraw that figure. Cities today build and sell their reputations on their local culture. HRM is doing this, but on the backs of those who drive our cultural scene, not in support of local culture.

The choice to support the Stones over local talent means that the city has turned its back on supporting our potential stars of tomorrow. If HRM is to become a civilized and cultural city it needs to support its own. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if the talent leaves town and never comes back.

By Keith McPhail


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