Rails End Gallery needs more funding as COVID-19 impacts take hold

By Mike Baker

2020 was a tough year for Haliburton’s Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre.
Located on York Street, inside the community’s landmark rail station, the gallery promotes Canadian art, crafts and music created by artists across Haliburton County.

“The Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre supports human connection and belonging through arts engagement,” said Laurie Jones, the facility’s executive director and curator, during a recent presentation to Dysart et al council. “We create shared experience in public space… We provide programming year round – art exhibitions, concerts and festivals, literary readings, book launches, family programming, music lessons, community outreach.”

All of those programs come at a cost, Jones explained. While Dysart makes an annual contribution of $50,000 to help offset some of the gallery’s expenses, a considerable amount of its budget is covered by different events and fundraisers held over the course of the year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the gallery wasn’t able to host nearly as many events as it usually does.

Popular annual events such as the Haliburton Arts and Craft Festival, the Haliburton Drum Festival and Trash and Treasures were all cancelled in 2020. As a result, the organization’s fundraising dollars were well down last year.

While not quite cap in hand, Jones asked Dysart council if there was any way the municipality could increase its contribution this year.
“Last fiscal year, our expenses were $181,000. Half of that was to do with staffing. Usually, money comes in a lot from events… so we’re in a bit of a pinch here [right now],” Jones said.

In lieu of asking for more money, Jones suggested the township alter the terms of the lease the gallery has on its building in the hopes they would start picking up the tab for hydro and propane. She estimated that would represent an increase of 12.5 per cent, or $6,250, in 2021.

She also called on Dysart to fund a professional building inspection of the site, so that the gallery’s staff can get a clear understanding of the repairs that need to be done and cost estimates to complete them.

“It’s a really poorly insulated [building]. We’ve done everything we can to make it warmer in there,” Jones said. “Staff can stay in the office, take their coats off and put a heater on, and it’s okay for people coming in and passing through, as they’re usually wearing coats in the winter. This doesn’t help us with programming, and we would really like to be able to do more community programming.”

Ward 2 Coun. Larry Clarke said the Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre was a key partner to the township, indicating he would be happy to support the request for additional funding.

“I don’t think what they’re asking us for is unreasonable. It’s been a challenging year for anyone who relies on foot traffic. We have to support our partnerships,” Clarke said. “Our arts community, it all ties into Fleming [College’s School of Art + Design] and the identity Haliburton and Dysart is developing throughout the province and world. Visitors are looking towards the arts and how they can interact with our community, enjoy our community and spend money in our community. These are all things that are key to our success and ongoing growth.”

Mayor Andrea Roberts said the request for additional funding would be considered during Dysart’s 2021 budget deliberations, which begin this Friday, Jan. 8.