- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

The report to Monday's City Council meeting by Tom Thomson Art Gallery Board Chair Linda Myles-Gallinger was brief. Bad news doesn't need embellishment.

The Gallery is running a deficit for the second year in a row. Last year it was approximately $85,000. This year the amount is still unknown, but Owen Sound's Corporate Services Director Kate Allan has called it "significant".

There was only one question. Councillor Brian O'Leary asked, "Given that there was a deficit in 2016, what policy changes did the Gallery Board undertake in 2017?"

Ms. Gallinger replied that there were no real policy changes, but "steps were taken".
No one asked what those were.

Council also approved the minutes of both the October 10 and October 19 meetings of the Tom Thomson Board of Management without comment.

The minutes detail the ongoing conversations about the Gallery's financial situation.

In June the Board had decided that the old Courthouse building would not be suitable for the Gallery's expansion plans, and by October it was clear that the planned incorporation, making the Gallery independent of the City, was not imminent.

The October 10 minutes stated that the 2017 budget was "optimistic on revenues with the assumption that Gallery would be incorporated mid-2017 allowing access to other sources of funding". Recent changes in the granting processes of both the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts are cited as factors affecting cash flow, but the minutes conclude "Almost every program has overspent and under revenue (sic)".

The minutes state that "The Board assumed competent financial management of the Gallery", while they pursued the incorporation and expansion plans. Recently Ruth Coursey was added to the Tom Thomson Foundation staff as the Manager of Administration and there are references to her implementation of new financial protocols and reporting. Coursey was the former Owen Sound City Manager who left that position in April 2015 but remained on the City payroll as the second-highest paid employee through 2016.

After receiving the required permission from Council to increase their Board complement, the Gallery nominated Bill Courage on October 10. Courage is Senior Vice-President in the Financial Recovery Services practice of BDO with "over 30 years insolvency and restructuring experience in a variety of industry sectors".

On October 19, Corporate Services Director Kate Allan attended the Gallery's Board of Management meeting. Minutes of her deputation include the summary: "Deficit was created by using unconfirmed revenues to balance fixed expenses".

Historically when the Gallery has been in deficit it has made up the difference from Gallery reserves held by the City. When asked, City staff confirmed that these reserves are now empty.

The harsh reality of the Gallery's future is reflected in another line from the October 19 minutes - "Reducing the number of staff is the only real source of reducing expenses".

There may be one more challenge faced by the Gallery, and by the City of which it is still a department.

A local supplier has expressed on social media that the Gallery has not fulfilled all its contractual obligations from past projects,  and that business person and at least one lawyer attended Monday's meeting.

City Manager Wayne Ritchie had no further comments following the meeting.



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