By Peter Paylor
When it comes to municipal finance, sometimes spending on the arts doesn’t look like spending on the arts. I learned that recently when I sat down with Belleville’s new mayor Mitch Panciuk to talk about his championship of the arts and he opened the discussion by mentioning the new washroom pavilion at Zwick’s Park. “It’s a venue we can be more proud to showcase now,” he says, pointing out the various arts events that already take place in the park, such as the popular Belleville Lions Concerts on the Bay, along with pointing out new opportunities that will exist to open the park up to more events. It is part of what he calls his holistic approach to the arts.
Panciuk says his goal over the next four years is “to take action to make sure we make a thriving arts community even stronger.” He believes the key will be working with the city’s development department towards “finding ways of facilitating our downtown buildings to make them more arts-friendly, more arts-supported.” He’s keen to point out that the arts can be an economic driver.
In the meantime, Panciuk hopes to stimulate the arts economy by introducing some significant changes to the City of Belleville Community Arts and Culture Fund that was introduced in 2015 by former Councillor Jack Miller. Council has already approved one of those changes; arts organizations are now eligible to apply for operating funds under the terms of the program. “We have organizations that are struggling just to keep their doors open,” Panciuk points out. During April’s operating budget discussions, Panciuk hopes to see the amount of the fund double to $50,000 annually and the maximum amount of each grant go from $2,500 to $3,500.
Another step the new mayor will be taking is the creation of a new Mayor’s Week for the Arts which is soon to be announced for May 2019. “It will be the City of Belleville’s chance to bring attention to arts in our community, to shine a spotlight on what we already have,” he says, pointing out the Quinte Symphony, the John M. Parrott Gallery, the Pinnacle Playhouse and the Quinte Ballet School of Canada as just a few examples.
As for the man himself, Panciuk speaks genuinely and openly about his own background growing up in a family of orchestral musicians and surrounded by music and the other arts. “I know the emotion I receive when I experience the arts,” he says, “and that’s what it’s all about. It’s an emotional and often-times spiritual experience. It opens our horizons. It makes us better people, more comfortable people in our own skins.”
Time will tell how well the new mayor lives up to his promise of championing the arts in Belleville, but if it turns out he needs a place to trumpet his success, he’s got that covered. Council recently passed a motion to provide funds for a new state-of-the-art electronic marquee for the city’s Pinnacle Playhouse and that’s a good start already.
The Quinte Arts Council is looking forward to working in collaboration with Mayor Panciuk and the City of Belleville for the celebration of the Arts in May this year. It is safe to say that it is our shared mission to stimulate, support and foster the arts in the Bay of Quinte region. Since 1967 it has been the goal of the QAC to advocate to all levels of the government bringing arts to the table!