Toronto Arts Stats

by Jini Stolk

In a wonderful follow-up to 2014’s Toronto Arts Facts the Toronto Arts Foundation and research partner Leger just released a new set of stats about how Torontonians feel about the arts.

We can be proud at the virtually unanimously positive perceptions Toronto residents have about the arts – from a way to attract tourists, improve the economy, create employment and make the city more beautiful – and how much they value the personal benefits for themselves and their children.

Toronto Arts Foundation Director and CEO Claire Hopkinson provided the deeper context in which to view the research’s insights into the connection between the people of Toronto and the arts. In her remarks at this year’s Mayors Arts Lunch, she talked about the event as a “conversation curated between, and among artists, patrons, political leaders and city builders about Toronto, where we are now, where we’re going and how we can work together to make this the best possible city.” “Once art reaches the public realm”, she continued, “it often leads to positive change…for the individual who experiences it and beyond that in a widening circle of understanding, of compassion and tolerance. Art connects individuals to ideas, to each other and to community.”

In her experience, as in mine, artists and their supporters love the city and are consciously contributing to city building through their work. “As a sector that excels in building platforms to engage, connect and create, I believe that the arts are a real part of the solution” to our many complex civic challenges, she concluded.

Hear hear.

There were many fascinating findings in this year’s Arts Stats; these are some of my favorites:

71% of respondents regularly attend the arts (although I would add that the dance community should take a look at how to build excitement and audience engagement with its work); there was a call from residents for community-based arts hubs (which could be part of the Province of Ontario’s new Community Hubs initiative; 26% of Torontonians are engaged in the arts beyond attendance; childhood arts experiences – as we’ve learned again and again – stick with us and can change our lives; artists are not perceived as elitists in Toronto, but as important contributors to our neighbourhoods and quality of life; cost is still holding people back from attendance at arts events; and the #1 personal benefit people identified is that the arts expose them to new ideas (this is hugely important in a multi-cultural city like ours). And, oh joy, 74% of respondents feel that artists’ work has value and should be appropriately compensated.

More facts and figures

The Ontario Arts Council highlighted results from Statistics Canada’s “Provincial and Territorial Culture Satellite Account, 2010” report, which measures the contribution of culture to the Ontario economy:

  • Arts, culture and heritage products represent $21.9 billion of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) and over 278,800 jobs.
  • Ontario’s arts, culture and heritage sector represents $23.8 billion or 4 % of the province’s GDP and over 301,000 jobs.

WolfBrown’s literature review for Arts Council England, Understanding the Value and Impacts of Cultural Experiences, compiles the major international research on the “intrinsic” value of cultural experiences.

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Boards and succession

by Jini Stolk

BoardConnect, an organization out of Sydney, Australia “dedicated to providing advice, support and skill-development for the boards of non-profit organizations,” has been posting some useful materials on LinkedIn, including this check list on Board Recruitment and Succession Planning.

I know BoardConnect through its founder David Fishel who’s been working long and hard to fill a need, recognized here by the Toronto Arts Council/Toronto Arts Foundation: if we want to strengthen non-profit arts organizations, we should be providing skills, knowledge and support to their board members. We all have great hopes and expectations of our volunteer boards and board members are eager to make a real difference, but with all the embarrassment of riches on the topic of governance, there’s a dearth of practical, usable materials for boards to learn from.

I like the simplicity of documents like this model board succession plan and this board profile worksheet from BoardConnect. The latter should help boards avoid the embarrassment of being profiled in the Toronto Star as being In Dire Need of Diversity. It’s really too late in the game for a Toronto arts organization to be caught out with 36 out of 36 board members who are white, or a board that’s overwhelmingly male.

Note that Germany recently became the latest country to legislate the percentage of board seats of its largest corporations that must be filled by women. Please let’s make these changes before we’re forced to (and while we’re at it, let’s answer Kelly Thornton’s International Women’s Day call to turn the tides of gender inequity on our stages.)

Diversity on boards – which can encompass age, experience in for profit or non-profit sectors, place of residence, country of origin, and many other considerations – is beyond all else a necessity of good governance. Nonprofit Quarterly (whose 4-part webinar series on Executive Transitions I’m sorry I missed) just opened up another line of thinking about succession planning in this piece with its challenge to all of us to “Shift the framework for succession planning to deep sustainability.”

Quoting from a new study by Third Sector New England, it says “It is time to change how the sector thinks about and approaches succession planning. Succession planning is not just about preparing for an individual leader transition; nor should it be viewed as a technical fix or a transactional exercise. Rather, it is about ensuring organizational sustainability by identifying and addressing key vulnerabilities so that the organization is not dependent on any one leader, funder, strategy, or way of thinking…”

Even more, it calls on us to “Shift the vision for governance.” “The expectations and responsibilities of boards need to shift in favor of governance over fundraising, and that means developing a shared vision for the organization, along with strategies to implement that vision, achieving operational excellence, and, yes, finding the resources to support the work. A short-term focus on fundraising undermines long-term sustainability and leads to continued dissatisfaction between leaders and their boards…This shift means improved communication about roles and priorities to be able to move forward with a shared vision…, a shared understanding of how to achieve it, and shared accountability. Mutual understanding will help organizations be more sustainable and responsive, develop a healthy culture, and serve their communities more effectively.”

How? “Shift the structural paradigm to robust investment in the sector.” “Nonprofits can run great programs, but in order for organizations to be healthy and sustainable in the long-term, leaders and funders alike need to face up to the realities of what it takes to lead and manage organizations—financial capital, leadership development, learning and innovation and a well-compensated staff…so that organizations can effectively fulfill their missions.”

Such a lot to think about.

Coming up

I will do my best to tackle some of these issues in a new series of The Art of Good Governance workshops presented by the Toronto Arts Council with Business for the Arts. Keep an eye out for details.


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Accessibility options

by Jini Stolk

A friend of mine, who runs a small but mighty arts space, recently asked if I had any advice about her accessibility options. Like many of us, she’s eager to comply with the Provinces’ new accessibility standards but even more to the point, her organization wishes to make itself accessible to all possible users, including those for whom two flights of steep stairs is a challenge (if not impossible.)

“Is there a scenario where the landlord and non-profit tenant could share the cost of a stairglide?” she wondered. “Is there subsidy for the non-profit tenant to install this system? Is there subsidy for the landlord?”

Here’s the discouraging answer:

“Sad to say, the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) does not apply to existing buildings, unless they’re undergoing extensive renovations. The new code amendments do not require that a building be fully accessible (unless it’s a new build), and do not apply at all to buildings where no major renovations are underway.

There’s no targeted funding at the province, other than Trillium Foundation’s capital support program which puts access (probably to be interpreted in a wide sense) at the top of its funding priorities.

Enabling Accessibility is the only program I’ve been able to find to support accessibility upgrades and according to their website they’re not currently accepting applications.

All you can do, I’m afraid, is try to make the stairglide part of negotiations for your lease renewal, and hope that your landlord is a good person (!) because Canada is a laggard around accessibility.”

BUT do I sense some change in the air? Shortly after I sent that message, I heard from Alfred Spencer, Director, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario about the Province’s AODA update “The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan”. Minister Brad Duguid said “I’m proud of how far Ontario has come on its accessibility journey. But there’s still a long way to go to reach our goal of becoming an accessible province. This will require a sustained and collaborative effort…it’s time to review our progress, renew our commitment and mobilize for another 10 years of action.”

Part of what looks like a new urgency around accessibility is the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s new project with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to help nonprofits and charities learn more about the AODA, how it impacts their organizations and help them start planning to meet requirements for the end of 2014 and beyond.

The Ontario Arts Council, as we know, is committed to ensuring that all Ontarians have access to the arts. In October 2014, the OAC launched Vital Arts and Public Value , a new strategic plan for 2014-2020 that identifies Deaf artists and artists with disabilities as a new priority group. Initiatives introduced in the plan include: support for those who need it to help complete their applications and funding for successful applicants who need help covering accommodation expenses in the course of their work. A new funding program has just been launched dedicated to Deaf artists and artists with disabilities.

The Parapan Am Games, starting on August 7, 2015, is a highly visible competition for 1,600 athletes with disabilities from 28 countries. Toronto will also welcome the first Accessibility Innovation Showcase, a five-day event featuring the latest advances in accessibility technologies and assistive devices. The public will be able to experience and learn about accessibility technologies first-hand. Innovators will have a chance to pitch their ideas to angel investors, with a view to accelerating the development of leading-edge accessibility technologies and stimulating growth in the industry.

In the end, however, I’m afraid the Province is going to have to put their money where their mouth is and help people like my friend – and like Cahoots Theatre which is about to launch The Deaf Artists & Theatres Toolkit (DATT), to increase the feasibility of collaborations such as their co-production of ULTRASOUND by Adam Pottle between professional theatre companies and Deaf artists– who are trying to make real change.


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Good reads

by Jini Stolk

First of all, reading can make you happier, and bibliotherapy is a growing movement to use the empathy we experience when reading great literature to help deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. I don’t know what a trained bibiotherapist would recommend for what ails me, but I’m sure enjoying my new book club and I eagerly await book suggestions from any of you out there. I’ll be reading on the beach.

Five Good Ideas, for those of you with a more professional turn of mind. A recent rereading reminded me that this little volume on Practical Strategies for Non-Profit Success, edited by Alan Broadbent and Ratna Omidvar, contains some succinct and very good advice on leadership, organizational effectiveness, communications, governance and more. Wisdom for the price of 6 lattes.

For those who want to delve deeper, I owe these suggestions in their entirety to Museum 2.0 – the 3 books on leadership that Nina Simon found most helpful in navigating an aspect of organizational change and leadership.

Nonprofit Lifecycles: Stage-Based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity by Susan Kenny Stevens. This slim book provides cogent and insightful analysis of organizational evolution from startup to growth to maturity to decline to turnaround (hopefully). Nina says “I have used this book in many ways over the past few years: to diagnose and understand an organization that was new to me, to plan for the future, and now, to relearn the needs and abilities of my organization as it moves out of turnaround and into growth. These 130 pages have a magical quality; I keep finding more in them. I didn’t know what “capacity building” meant when I first picked up this book. I still don’t entirely. But I do know that this book keeps helping me learn and grow… and that’s about as good a definition as I’ve got at this point.”

The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Nina says “I’ve been recommending this book to many friends and colleagues recently as they take on new leadership roles. Unlike the other two books on this list, this book is more about the individual in the organization than the organization itself. I found it to be incredibly helpful when I was preparing for and then taking on an executive director role, but it can be useful for anyone taking on a new role who wants to do so mindfully and successfully. This book uses the classic business book formula–pithy missives mixed with diverse examples–but it does so really, really well. The thing it does best is help you think about how to strategically plan out not just what you will do at work but who you will be, and how you can construct your position, relationships, and roles intentionally instead of having them “happen” to you.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. Nina says “I picked up this book on a whim at the beginning of the year based on the fact that Fractured Atlas, an organization I admire, was using it to guide their work. Like The First 90 Days, The Advantage employs a classic business book formula. But instead of focusing on individual leadership, this book focuses on organizational culture. I’m not sure I completely buy Lencioni’s big idea, but the content is solid and useful–regardless of what trumps what. For us at the MAH, this book has been helpful as we shift from a startup culture of change and experimentation into a growth culture of strengthening and deepening our work. We are using approaches from The Advantage to write meaningful organizational values, infuse those into our hiring, onboarding and performance review processes, and protect and cultivate the unique aspects of our interpersonal culture that make us thrive.”

And, perhaps, the big read: The Age of Culture by D. Paul Schafer, former chair of the Ontario Arts Council. “Paul Schafer’s vision of the centrality of culture to our lives, to societal development, and to the future of civilization has shaped policy development at the local, national, and international levels over the past four decades. His message cannot be ignored.” – Joyce Zemans, York University

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Talking business

by Jini Stolk

Business for the Arts recently launched their online sponsorship tutorial kit – another reminder that BftA has seized hold of the field of corporate support for the arts in a most marvellous way, providing matching programs, workshops, online learning, awards, young professional board recruitment and training, and more. The sponsorship tutorial is a six module online course that covers planning, prospecting, making an approach, pitching, fulfilment and stewardship of business sponsorships of the arts. Registration is open until June 4th, so if you’re interested you should act now.

While we’re engaged in learning the “how” of gaining businesses’ support I think it’s equally important to understand the “why.” What’s in it for them (beyond our fond hopes that they love and are devoted to our art)?

I’ve been reading a barrage of recent pieces about what motivates businesses to align themselves with local arts groups. Some of the more helpful ones talk about:

Good customer and public relations: Business for the Arts’ own new study reveals that Canadians value companies that support the arts. 52% of survey respondents “feel more favourably towards businesses that support arts and culture,” because they personally engage with the arts; believe in the value of the arts; and feel that arts have a positive impact on people and communities. Among businesses supporting the arts, most indicate that they’re interested less in the return on their investment (ROI) than in the social return on their investment (SROI). Among those businesses that don’t support the arts, many say that they’ve never been asked.

Corporate social responsibility: This is where a business’s desire to have a positive impact on society and its efforts to integrate social, environmental and economic integrity into its operations, aligns with a non-profit organization’s values and mission.

Community improvement: The NEA’s Validating Arts & Livability Indicators Study examined 23 potential indicators of the contribution of the arts and culture to quality of place and community livability, and defined creative placemaking as processes where “partners from public, private, non-profit and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighbourhood, town, city or region around arts and cultural activities.”

Bang for the buck: This article examines the marketing and awareness impact , through things like logo display and prominent recognition, of arts sponsorships and reveals eye-popping details on the benefits sponsorships at different levels buy at some of England’s most prominent arts organizations.

8 ways to partner with the arts: The pARTnership Movement, an initiative of Americans for the Arts, discusses all the above reasons for corporations to partner with the arts and adds recruiting talent to a more vibrant community; advancing corporate objectives and strategies; fostering critical thinking; engaging and thanking employees; and embracing diversity and team building.

On a more critical note, an increasing number of environmental activists (like Mel Evans in her book, Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts) argue that oil companies’ arts sponsorships are cynical P.R. strategies to nullify local protests.

In the U.S., and in the world of dance, corporate donation trends are declining according to Dance/NYC – and in any case corporate donations are primarily made to large organizations, largely in Manhattan.

As to the “how” of gaining corporate support, this final piece straightforwardly admits that corporate decision making is in a constant state of flux, and that gifts are guided through different processes managed by different individuals from one year to the next; even in a mid-sized corporation the decision-making process can make your head spin. That’s been my experience, but here are some questions that might help you pin down the right person and the right process, leading to an actual, gratefully welcomed, sponsorship or gift: “Please walk me through the decision-making process for your community investments. Is there anyone that I should be talking to specifically? Are you willing to field questions about my application/proposal before it is submitted? To whom should these questions be submitted? What are the timelines around decision-making? Do you have any other resources that will help guide me through the process?”

An example, perhaps, of “ask and ye shall be given.”


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Audience observations

by Jini Stolk

Curtain times: I quite enjoyed the 3-hour theatre/musical production I saw recently, but I can’t say I remember much from the crucially important final half hour. It would have been lovely to have had a clearer sense of how the show ended, so I will ask again: can we consider earlier curtain times, especially for very long shows? Think of it as an act of mercy for your audience members.

Ticketing software: Ticketing systems are not all alike, and not all of them are happy. I’ve been on an online ticket-buying binge, and the user experience matters. Eventbrite and Sumac are a pleasure to use. TicketLeap, I have to say, is not. Check out this site which tracks customer reviews of ticketing software. It doesn’t answer all the questions you need to ask if you’re buying a new system, but it answers some important ones. (Similarly, was a friendly and easy platform for Theatre Passe Muraille’s recent online auction, and I love CauseVox, the fundraising and crowdfunding platform that Toronto Dance Theatre uses for Tour de Danse.)

Festival brochures: The TIFF and Hot Docs brochures, with their plethora of information, make my head spin. Luminato’s 2015 flyer seems to contain everything you need to know (program highlights, a map of venues, and a basic event schedule) with clear and easy information about where to find more details and how to order tickets. Well done.

Group sales: I believe we’re missing something important for growing our audiences. At a recent performance of the Eifman Ballet’s wonderful Anna Karenina, I was fascinated by Russian Tix’s very busy pick up desk. I had no idea that Toronto’s Russian expats were so well served by this group sales/discount ticket organization. How many of us work with culture clubs like Toronto Arts & Culture? TO Arts & Culture was started by Greg York to organize informal outings with fellow Centre for Social Innovation tenants; it now has over 6,000 members eager to attend theatre, music, dance, films, discussions and more. If we want to reach out beyond our already-committed core audiences, we should be encouraging, working with, supporting, and helping to develop more group initiatives like Greg’s.



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Diversity in casting and beyond

bu Jini Stolk

Some controversies should be consigned to history, but the fact that Native Earth Performing Arts is hosting a Community Forum about diverse casting on May 26th, featuring a panel of distinguished Artistic Directors, proves that this particular issue is still, unfortunately, alive and kicking.

Somewhere in my dusty files I have an article I wrote on Cross-Cultural Casting for Canadian Theatre Review (a bottle of wine to anyone who can find it online) when Sandi Ross at CAEA, Sandra Tulloch and Jean Yoon at Theatre Ontario, and Rose Jacobson and I at TTA were actively promoting colour-blind and diverse casting.

What can be said at this point that is more true and inspirational than Soheil Parsa’s Director’s Notes for his marvellous Blood Wedding: “A culturally-diverse member in our cast is not representing her/his race or culture on the stage; rather, she/he represents her/his unique individuality as an artist, and as a human being. We aren’t emphasizing the predominance of different cultural identities in the world, but are simply saying that this, as a whole, is the human race we represent, in all its beauty and vulnerability.”

Adam Thurman from the Mission Paradox blog is always clear and strong about diversity in the arts. In “Starting at the Source he hopes the community can soon move beyond reflecting America’s broadly diverse society to embracing diversity of thought and assumptions. He argues that traditional standard interviewing and hiring practices tend to favour traditional standard applicants for both staff and board openings, and notes as I have, that small efforts to counteract unconscious bias can yield important results.

In Canada, DiverseCity on Board, part of Ryerson’s new Global Diversity Exchange, is helping by identifying and training excellent board candidates for non-profit and public institutions.

AND, if you’re not yet convinced, the New York Times just reported on the NYC Cultural Affairs Department’s “Plans to Study the Diversity of Its Cultural Groups – including boards, staffs and audiences of organizations including museums, orchestras and dance troupes – in an attempt to make clear that diversity should be a priority for institutions when it comes to naming trustees or hiring employees.

“Over 90 percent of staffs at museums nationally are white,” according to Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, (I wonder if things are much different in Canada), although he emphasizes that the purpose of the study is to learn from how people develop diverse audiences and staffs and boards, highlighting the positive, and sharing best practices. This is something I will be very interested in following.

Anne Pasternak – formerly president and artistic director of the public art group Creative Time, just appointed Director of the Brooklyn Museum – says that based on census figures showing an increase in New York’s minority population, her organization has already been changing its hiring practices. “Everything we do in the organization now is seen through the lens of equity,” she said. “If you want to have audiences for the arts in the city, where are they going to come from? It’s not only an issue of what feels good and what’s right. It’s an issue of survival.”

More fascinating reading:

Annual NGO Ranking Shows White Savior Status Quo Remains Intact . Scathing stats from the Nonprofit Quarterly on board gender, diversity and values imbalance.

The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion . Vu Le on why the problem with the nonprofit sector’s diversity strategies is that they increase demand without increasing supply.

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Relying on the crowd

by Jini Stolk

Crowd fundraising isn’t going away soon. Just keeping an eye on the various campaigns and approaches coming my way has been an engrossing pursuit.

I might as well say right now that one Indiegogo campaign I contributed to – which has been doing absolutely everything right and exceeded their $20,000 goal with 295 donors – is for Maureen Bradley’s award-winning feature film Two 4 One . It’s having its Toronto Premiere at the Inside Out Festival, May 30th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. How do I know that? Because I’ve been receiving regular, but not annoyingly regular, updates on the film’s progress and many triumphs.

There are some spectacular crowdfunding success stories, but by and large crowdfunding is hard, really hard. You need a compelling story, a reasonable goal (the average crowdfunding campaign raises $5,000 to $7,000, about the same as you’d get from those grant programs you’ve been applying to…) You need to line up seed funding (donations you secure before the campaign launches, by approaching some of your current donors and asking them to donate on campaign launch day.) You also need great connections (“Social Media is a critical factor in crowdfunding success: for every order of magnitude increase in Facebook friends (10, 100, 1000), the probability of success increases drastically (from 9%-, 20%, to 40%)”), the capacity for follow up and long term stewardship, and the ability to deliver on your gifts and other promises.

Again, it’s not easy. But it can be extremely exciting, if you know how to keep the energy high.

I’ve recently been following a Kickstarter campaign to equip a brand new, ground breaking Makerspace at 192 Spadina, CSI’s newest building. STEAMLabs promised discounts (on their kids programs) and rewards (such as deals on tools, t-shirts and unique laser-cut artwork by local artists) and much much more to contributors/investors/donors (which is right?) Their goal was to transform their 2500 square foot space on the ground floor of 192 Spadina from an empty shell into a thriving community hub, equipped with cutting edge tools for kids and adults. They asked supporters to help spread the word and follow them on Twitter and Facebook – as they should – and I just found out today that they exceeded their $20,000 goal!

I was also delighted to see that Meagan O’Shea raised over $12,000 from 54 backers of her Kickstarter campaign for We Don’t Need Another Hero, recently mounted at The Theatre Centre.

Like other major funding campaign strategies, crowdfunding done well raises awareness as well as funds. Two 4 One.

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Building trust

by Jini Stolk

I’ve had many fascinating conversations since my recent post on self-interest as a largely unacknowledged factor in successful collaborative initiatives. This led me to think about another essential component of collaborations that work: trust. Because it was part of our name, identity, values and process at Creative Trust, trust was much discussed during the project’s development and continued to be an active theme in the office and around the board table.

I wanted to share my response to a thought-provoking question from our colleague Melody Mui who is now a Programme Officer at the Hong Kong Art Centre – where she is, I trust, extending our program’s values and processes to an arts community in the midst of exciting but challenging change.

Melody wanted to know what the reaction of the stakeholders was, when we were doing the feasibility study, to the idea of sharing and trusting one another; and whether I had any advice regarding inspiring trust and helping one another to collaborate for capacity programs of the future?

These are great questions, because I’ve come to understand that you can’t assume that mutual trust and cooperation will be part of every collaborative project. I think we had something very special at Creative Trust, and here are some of the factors – attitudes, approaches, expectations and values – that, I believe, fostered trust.

  • Many Creative Trust companies had been involved with Arts4Change and had already worked with George Thorn and Nello McDaniel from Arts Action Research individually and in group sessions, where we talked about the really hard topics: boards, finances, attendance, tensions within our companies, and stress. We had become comfortable with openly sharing our most pressing problems.
  • We had had the experience of developing a successful collective fundraising campaign, which raised almost $1.4 million for 23 companies ranging widely in size and type. We knew that collaboration could work.
  • Creative Trust was initiated and led from within the community. The founding steering committee (myself, Claire Hopkinson, Mallory Gilbert, Joan Bosworth and Jane Marsland) were arts managers who had a great deal of experience working on community advocacy, marketing and other initiatives.
  • We offered hope for real change. We asked people to work hard, but they knew they would be assisted, supported and rewarded when they were successful.
  • The program was structured around trust and sharing – with Creative Trust, with each other, and within each company. We encouraged and facilitated open and honest conversation.
  • Our values – based on our belief that the artistic vision is at the heart of each organization, and that each company has its own unique path to artistic vitality and organizational health – were defined early and remained the cornerstone of our work.
  • Creative Trust was both a funder and a part of the community (for which we were sometimes criticized.) We deeply understood the challenges of leading an arts organization, and worked hard to help people succeed.

There were no doubt other factors – including luck, timing, good will, and a uniquely open and supportive board of directors – that helped foster trust and success, but these stand out as possible guides and inspiration to other collaborators now and in future.



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So you think you know about dance?

by Jini Stolk

I’ve always understood dance as a human instinct, a way to express happiness, sexuality or other emotions through movement. When you add in the dancer’s gifts of musicality, grace, strength, balance, speed and courage – what’s not to like?

A new survey – part of Dance Across Canada, a major research project funded by the Canada Council with the Ontario Arts Council – reaffirms that Canadians love to dance, both professionally and for the pure joy of it. Over 8,100 responders from across the country participate in 190 forms of dance; the large majority are involved in contemporary/modern or ballroom/social dance, although European traditional, folk and ballet are well represented. Most people dance with a group or take classes – dance is a social activity – and respondents describe a lifelong involvement in dance (an average of 23.9 years among dance professionals and 16.9 among leisure participants.) Non-professionals who took the survey report devoting 6.5 hours a week to dance. That’s a lot, considering that Health Canada recommends that adults get 2.5 hours of weekly aerobic activity.

Dancing is fun. Enjoyment is at the top of the list of reasons for leisure dancing; professionals rank artistic expression just a bit higher. People dance because it provides social connections, joy and passion, mental and physical well-being and stimulation, and self-expression. People who participate and feel connected to the world of dance tend to go to live performances (85% of dance professionals attend dance shows – I wonder what the other 15% are doing! – as do 70% of leisure dancers.)

The survey becomes more interesting for me when it drills down into the lives of professional dancers, who report earning income from dance for an average of 11.7 years, following 9.5 years of training. The average income in the professional dance field is $11,207; teachers earn the most ($14,170), dancers earn the least ($6,715). Obviously, dance professionals supplement their dance income with other employment.

This is why post-professional retraining is so vital to the field, and why an organization like the Dancer Transition Resource Centre is so important. I’m happy to say I know many dancers who are flourishing, post-performance, in medical, computer programming, design and arts administration/fundraising careers, among others.

I would call the #YesIdance survey a small first step in understanding this moving and physically inspiring art form.

In the meantime, those of us who love dance are looking forward to

  • Hub14’s amazing 10th anniversary, being celebrated with a special photo exhibition April 24 – 26. Hub14 is a place for dance/arts incubation, research, creation and performance that is 100% self-sustaining and volunteer-driven, and an inspirational example of entrepreneurial and collaborative community success.
  • The celebrated Eifman Ballet’s return to Toronto on April 23, 24 and 25th at the Sony Centre
  • InDANCE’s premiere of The Book of Sandalwood, their latest full-length work and first Bharatanatyam creation since 2012, on May 16 at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto
  • Welcoming Fall for Dance North, an annual dance festival New Yorkers have been enjoying for more than a decade, to the Sony Centre, hopefully this October. Fall for Dance is the ideal concept for reinvigorating Toronto’s enthusiasm for dance with its affordable ticket prices and eclectic international programming.
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