I’m sure I wasn’t the only one delighted by the prominence given to Toronto’s cultural space needs in our new, updated Culture Plan. “Ensuring a supply of affordable, sustainable cultural space” is the first of six overarching recommendations put forward by Co-Chairs Robert J. Foster, Karen Kain and Jim Prentice in Creative Capital Gains – and they won’t get any argument from me!
In fact, in a presentation last year to Economic Development Committee, Creative Trust contended that the declining state of Toronto’s cultural facilities is a significant problem, not only for the companies who own and run them, but for the City. “Our established nonprofit arts organizations need affordable, accessible and safe facilities and performance venues in order to thrive. We must also acknowledge audience expectations – not only aging audiences, but also the next generation of younger theatre-goers – for comfort and accessibility. The next stage (of Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance), we believe, belongs to those mid-size arts organizations that not only house, but are the creative engines of this Renaissance.”
Creative Capital Gains, whose recommendations were endorsed by Economic Development Committee and Chair Councilor Michael Thompson (who has proven to be an enthusiastic champion of the arts), goes to City Council this week for what we sincerely hope will be final approval.
The report estimates the scope of the problem by quoting Creative Trust’s calculation that “Simply meeting basic building code requirements and ensuring public safety in these buildings will require $30 million of investment over the next five years.”
Ay. There’s the rub. Is an investment of that size possible in today’s Toronto?
Yes, if it’s acknowledged as an investment. The downside of not taking action is the diminishment of Toronto’s thriving arts and creative community, and the resulting negative impact on Toronto’s future as one of the world’s most liveable, creative and competitive cities.
The Report wisely points out what everyone knows: that in Canada, private sector funding follows public sector investment. So what can and should the City do?
Creative Trust has been urging the City to look at funding some of these projects through one-time Section 37 agreements with local developers, and that’s strongly endorsed in the Report.
We’ve also been asking for the renewal of the Culture Build Investment Program. Here’s what the Report has to say: “In 2002 and 2008, Culture Build provided 62 grants totalling $1.9 million and leveraged $5.6 million from other levels of government and the private sector to realize $7.5 million worth of state of good repair projects in non-City owned cultural facilities. Through Culture Build, cultural organizations were able to make necessary improvements, renovations and retrofits to address health and safety issues; replace aging equipment; conduct major repairs to basements, brickwork and roofs; improve environmental systems such as ventilation, heating and air conditioning; and upgrade seating, lobbies, and box offices to improve accessibility, capacity and audience experience. The program was consistently oversubscribed and should be reinstated.”
Although these two important recommendations will not fully solve Toronto’s space problem, they will show that the City’s leaders understand and are championing the cultural facilities needs of its major creative companies, in the way that the cities of Montreal and Vancouver do. Culture is an area in which we already lead, on a scale that is recognized internationally, if not always in our own backyard. The performing arts in Toronto can be a primary definer of what Toronto is and can be.
As Creative Capital Advisory Council Co-Chair Robert Foster says, we must commit to bold moves…
I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can support and move these recommendations forward at the City – or from anyone who has new, different, creative solutions to our space problem.