TO’s mid-sized theatre sitch

by Jini Stolk

Dear Kelly Nestruck:  I’m still worried about Toronto’s mid-sized theatres.

There are, indeed, an amazing number of organizations taking the reins and creatively working around the lack of core support for arts facilities to get the space they (and we, as Torontonians) need.  Artscape’s Daniel’s Spectrum  now provides homes to Native Earth Performing Arts, COBA Collective of Black Artists and many other arts and community groups and is a stunning focal point of the remaking of Regent Park. The Theatre Centre’s $6.2 million renovation of the former Carnegie Library into an arts hub is a major addition to Queen Street West. Crow’s Theatre’s plans to build a 200 seat theatre within a condo development fills a theatrical and community space gap in the East End. And Tafelmusik’s just-announced launch of phase one of its revitalization of the Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on Bloor will transform the performance space and concert experience of one of Canada’s most renowned arts organizations.

Each of these organizations has been following its own unique path. The Theatre Centre was the right organization in the right place at the right time, providing the promise of an exciting new cultural centrepiece to an area under fire for too-rapid condo development. It built strong local and political support, and spent years in careful planning and fundraising before breaking ground; it is also adapting a cherished heritage building for continued public use. Crow’s Theatre’s project is the result of unwavering persistence in pursuit of a good idea; a strong business plan based on local need in an area with few performance spaces; and an unusual social enterprise approach to revenue generation. Daniel’s Spectrum exemplifies the value of having a large and sophisticated organization like Artscape devoted to working closely with the city and developers to enliven neighbourhoods through cultural space development.  And Tafelmusik’s renovations are another carefully planned, phased project, drawing on the power of close partnerships and devoted supporters.

So with all these exciting projects taking off, why am I still worried? Because none of them have been easy, and they have drawn considerably on the passion, entrepreneurship, and planning skills of artists and arts managers – as will a number of other city-building cultural renovation projects in the works. We now have a responsibility to give these arts organizations all the support they need.  It’s time for the rest of us, funders, governments, community and audiences alike, to step up to the plate to help make these wonderful new cultural spaces an ongoing success.

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