Arts Sutton director general resigns citing surprise funding cut

By Ruby Irene Pratka - Local Journalism Initiative
Arts Sutton director general resigns citing surprise funding cut

Arts Sutton is seeking a new director general after the sudden resignation of Sylvain Demers.

Demers, who had served as director general for the past six years, announced his decision in a resignation letter sent out July 7.

“In March, the town of Sutton decided to drastically cut the funding that it granted us for the functioning of our organization,” Demers wrote. “Despite meeting with the people concerned, we have yet to receive a clear explanation for this funding cut, which, to us, is completely arbitrary.”

In an interview with the BCN, Demers noted that the city included an $8,000 subsidy for the arts centre in its most recent budget – half the subsidy of the year before. According to Demers, the cut represents 15 per cent of the centre’s annual budget.

Demers learned of the reduced subsidy in March. He said he met with town officials, including Mayor Robert Benoit, to understand the reasoning behind it, and received no clear answer.

“We did everything the previous town council asked us to do, and it was very surprising that our subsidy was cut after we did everything that was asked of us,” he said. “We know a town committee met in March [to determine funding for community organizations]. Normally, the criteria and the members of the committee are public, but this time, they were not. I spoke with the mayor, but he can’t go against what his employees say.” Demers said the dispute “undermined his trust” in the current town council. “I don’t think they [members of council] understand the arts all that well,” he said.

Benoit was not available to comment at press time. Sutton director general Pascal Smith told the BCN in a brief email that the reasons for Demers’ resignation “belong to him” and that 58 per cent of subsidies handed out by the town council go to cultural projects and organizations, “which are of great importance to the town of Sutton.”

Demers said the cuts would not drastically affect the centre’s programming over the next year, which is largely already confirmed, although the next few years could potentially see programming cuts and cuts to staff hours. “We had a summer exhibit in the community…and things like that will disappear,” he said.

Demers said the gallery was in a healthy financial position despite the cut. “It’s the principle of the thing – the fact that they cut our funding without telling us why,” he said. “I am grateful for what we do get, and I’m not looking for a fight with anyone, but we would like clarity.”

According to Demers, along with the Mont Sutton ski resort, the arts centre is one of the town’s major attractions. “People come from out of town to see our exhibits, then they eat in restaurants, go shopping here and sleep in hotels,” he said. “This [decision] sends the message that art is useless, but for every dollar invested in the arts, there’s money being spent in the city, and that’s not being recognized.”

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