09/09/2011 12:51 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST

Toronto arts funding in city's sights

Toronto's economy would suffer if the city follows through with a plan to cut some $6 million a year in funding to some of the top cultural groups, an Arts Council executive said Friday.

According to a draft proposal obtained by the Toronto Star, millions of dollars in arts funding could be slashed from the next city budget.

The plan, drafted by city manager Joe Pennachetti, would affect high profile arts groups such as the Toronto International Film Festival, the National Ballet and the Toronto Symphony.

"There would be lots of ripple effect," Claire Hopkinson, executive director of the Toronto Arts Council, told the CBC. "TIFF has taken over Toronto. You just walk down the street and there are all these restaurants, all these taxi drivers, all these hotels. This is all the economic spillover from the arts in Toronto."

Executives from the top arts groups planned to huddle behind closed doors Friday to discuss the surprise move. They plan a press conference for late next week, the Star said.

Although the Star report said $6 million was the targeted number, Hopkinson feared it could be higher.

"It could actually be more. It could actually be $8 million depending on interpretation, but that is the worst case scenario," she said.

Hopkinson said the cuts would mean many artists would lose their jobs and organizations that depended on the funding would be forced to downsize or close.

"If these cuts would take place, organizations would have to significantly reorganize what they could offer," she said. The plan will be reviewed by Mayor Rob Ford's powerful executive council on Sept. 19.

The plans to slash funding to the key arts groups comes as the city leaves no stone unturned in a bid to shave down its massive shortfall of more than $750 million.

Friday also marks the deadline for city employees to accept or decline the city's voluntary separation package, or a VSP, from their employer.

The city manager put the offer out to about 17,000 city employees two months ago — but speculation is there will not be enough people taking the buyout package for the city to find the kind of savings it was looking for.

And CBC News has learned the city may broaden the VSP offer to include employees of boards and agencies.

A further 20,000 of those workers in such areas as libraries, police, the zoo, the TTC could soon get a similar offer.