City's funding announcement excites arts council

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KINGSTON — When city council last week approved directing $200,000 of its million-dollar pandemic relief fund toward helping artists, the news caught even the head of the city’s arts council by surprise.

“We found out watching the council meeting on YouTube (last) Thursday night and found out along with everybody else,” Kirsi Hunnakko, executive director of the Kingston Arts Council, recalled. “I’m sure if there’d been a video (camera) on my face, you would have seen my jaw drop.”

City staff, though, are already familiar with the challenges artists have faced during the pandemic, Hunnakko believes.

“We certainly are in an ongoing conversation with (the city’s) cultural services (department); we have a really great relationship with the staff there,” Hunnakko said.

“They’ve been very much aware that a part of our efforts is to gauge what’s happening in the community, provide what services we can and offer support through the pandemic, and then also relate back to the city what information we have in terms of how folks are doing in the artistic community.”

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Hunnakko has also been a part of a collection of community groups who take part in calls with the mayor.

“Certainly, when I’ve had the opportunity to speak on those calls, I have advocated, generally speaking, for support of our arts community and really spoken about how this has been a very, very challenging time for a sector that, already, even pre-pandemic, was hurting in many ways, too,” she said.

The KAC has heard from many of the city’s artists, too, through surveys, talks, and roundtable discussions about issues such as how artists and arts groups can change the way in which they operate.

“That’s been our big job during this pandemic,” Hunnakko explained, “to do our best to have an understanding of that so we can advocate for the community the best we can.”

In addition to the city’s artists and not-for-profit arts organizations getting a fifth of the fund, which is being moved from the city’s reserves, small businesses are to receive $600,000 and recreation and social service not-for-profit organizations the remaining $200,000.

The $200,000 going to artists will be added to the City of Kingston Arts Fund, which annually provides project and operating grants to local arts organizations. Hunnakko isn’t sure yet how the emergency funding will be distributed. Creating a framework of how that will unfold has been the focus of a number of meetings in the past week, Hunnakko said.

“The hope is, as best we can, to kind of get this funding where it’s needed in the community,” she explained. “Of course, with a funding program, there is a need for a kind of framework to be in place and that administrative piece to be there to support it being successful and functioning in the community. It does take a bit of time to get up and running.”

Hunnakko said it has been “nice to see that there is this recognition that the need is out there” by city council.

“This influx of funding is really going to have an impact, it’s going to be very well received, I can say,” she said. “So we’re kind of excited what can come of that.”

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