On Thursday's GFB: Aldona Satterthwaite

Oct 31, 2012

By AM740 Staff

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11:30am ET | Aldona Satterthwaite, Executive Director, Toronto Botanical Garden

TOPIC – Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG) Urgently Seeks Funding Increase from the City

INFO – The Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG) today announced that on October 15, it will appear before the City’s Parks and Environment Committee to make an urgent case for increased funding for its operations, while at the same time launching a fundraising campaign aimed at the general public. Currently, the TBG receives $25,000 per year from the City toward maintenance—a figure that’s remained unchanged for more than 35 years. Besides the financial contribution, the City provides the TBG’s building rent-free, takes care of major structural repairs (the TBG does the rest), and covers basic utilities and snow clearing. According to the City’s estimation, the combined value of its contribution is just under $200,000.

“As Toronto’s sole botanical garden and a de facto natural and horticultural community centre, we are a cultural institution that provides so much to so many, such as classes, courses, and camps for more than 16,000 adults and children—including those from priority neighbourhoods–each year, but our current funding model is simply not sustainable, ” said Executive Director Aldona Satterthwaite. “Without a solid, ongoing basis of support, we may end up as a living example of the saying, “the operation was a success but the patient died,”” she added.

The TBG, located in Edwards Gardens, is the epicentre of horticultural activity in the GTA. Besides serving as the hub for dozens of horticultural societies, it is home to Canada Blooms, the Toronto Master Gardeners, the Milne House Garden Club and The Garden Club of Toronto. The TBG raises more than 96 per cent of its $1.6 million annual budget through private means; its only government support comes from the City of Toronto. It serves as a beautiful gateway to Edwards Gardens, and is visited by tens of thousands of Torontonians and tourists every year.

“Because of our location and our gardens, many Torontonians assume that we are part of Edwards Gardens and, like other parks, enjoy the full financial support of the City. This is not the case,” Satterthwaite continued. “Yes, we are on City land and in a City building, but we are a volunteer-based registered educational charity here for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone.”

In 2003, the Toronto Botanical Garden undertook a highly successful $8 million revitalization, adding a LEED silver-certified building, two green roofs, and 12 new gardens. The TBG privately raised $6.5 million for this project (the City contributed $1.5 million), and since then has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars more in the site.

“While we enjoy an excellent relationship with our colleagues at Edwards Gardens and are grateful to the City for its support, today we are a larger operation than we were 35 years ago and provide far greater services to an expanded and much more diverse community. Our maintenance costs alone for the building and grounds are not $25,000, but about $400,000 each year,” said Satterthwaite.

The TBG raises the bulk of its revenues through memberships, facility rentals, shop sales, seasonal events and festivals, fees for courses, classes and lectures, donations, and grants. However, the TBG cannot charge admission nor gain any revenues from parking—which thankfully remains free–and is not allowed to have a restaurant in its building. Recently, the TBG’s difficult financial situation has been compounded by the loss of some $180,000 in revenue from rental bookings, education program registrations, and shop sales due to the City’s seven-month-long parking lot reconstruction project.

“While all our revenue-generating operations are actually doing well, it simply isn’t enough this year to cover our operating costs,” says TBG Board co-chair Allan Kling. “Unfortunately, in this difficult economic climate, donations, grants and sponsorships are down, which has compounded our dilemma. Of course, we are reaching out to our committed supporters, but we need the City to acknowledge the Toronto Botanical Garden’s worth to all the citizens of Toronto, and its value as a tourist and cultural attraction and economic generator. As well, we hope Torontonians will show their support for their botanical garden by contacting their Councillor and making a donation.”

“We are asking the City to move up its financial contribution from $25,000 to at least $160,000 a year, with built-in cost-of living increases, or about 10 per cent of our current operating budget,” said Kling. “It is our hope that this will bring us closer to a more equitable private/public partnership, which was always the intention of the founders of this organization. This increase in our annual, stable funding would make an enormous difference to our ongoing survival and growth.”

This isn’t the first time the TBG has faced a financial crisis.
“When I joined the TBG in 2010, the place was virtually moribund and thinly staffed and the library (the largest private horticultural library in Canada) did not even have a librarian,” said Satterthwaite. “Now we have 23 full and part-time staff and 400 volunteers and membership is at its highest level in years. Together, we have worked extremely hard to revitalize the TBG and all that it does by implementing more than 100 initiatives—both large and small—devised for the improvement of the facility and its operations, and the pleasure and benefit of all. (A list is attached). But we are constantly on the knife-edge of solvency, and we simply can’t afford to lose this momentum again. We need stable support. It would be tragic to undo all the increased opportunities we’ve created for Torontonians over the last several years, and ignore the huge potential for more, due to the lack of manageable stable funding.”

Today the Toronto Botanical Garden boasts 17 beautiful, urban-sized, organic gardens on four acres, specifically planted to be living examples for home gardeners of how to achieve attractive outdoor spaces while providing habitat for pollinators and other creatures. Throughout the year, the TBG offers hundreds of educational programs, classes and camps in subjects such as urban farming and beekeeping (the TBG has three hives), as well as public access to the resources of the Weston Family Library, Canada’s largest private horticultural library. “And the intangible that we provide here is food for the soul. In these difficult economic times, we are one place you can bring your family and enjoy our stunning gardens for free, and more and more people do so every year,” said Satterthwaite. “Every great city has a botanical garden, and Toronto deserves to keep theirs.”

To learn more about the Toronto Botanical Garden’s “Hearts and Flowers” fundraising campaign, or to make a tax-receiptable charitable donation to the Toronto Botanical Garden, go to torontobotanicalgarden.ca.

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