Checking our vital signs

by Jini Stolk

The latest Vital Signs Report from the Toronto Community Foundation provides an interesting snapshot of where Toronto is at in 2013. Using stats and reports, it focuses on 10 “vital signs” of community well-being, such as Safety, Health and Wellness, Transportation, Environment, Jobs, Gap between Rich and Poor, Housing and Civic Engagement.

Giving the TCF their props, Arts and Culture has always been included among the indicators, as it surely should be. We are the positive and joyful side of a thriving community, and our strength and growth says a lot about quality of life and how our City can be objectively understood and perceived.

Yet, it strikes me again this year that the Arts section too easily becomes a pat on the back, “feel good”, outlier within the Report. Crime has dropped by 7%, yet homicides rose; obesity increased, yet the Pan Am Games will leave a lasting health legacy; employment grew 14.1% in the downtown core, yet youth face dismal job prospects. And in the arts, TIFF attracted more visitors than ever before; arts and culture was the major attractor of 44% of our visitors from North America; arts funding increased by $6 million; and location production spending topped $1 billion.

It’s not the Community Foundation’s fault, but I feel a certain lack of rigour in the statistics we’re gathering about ourselves. What percentage of the kids in our communities are exposed to meaningful arts experiences each year? Are our facilities making progress in energy savings and environmental sustainability? Are our heritage buildings being properly maintained? Is the average wage of an actor or visual artist rising? Do documentary filmmakers have increasing outlets for screening their productions?

I’m definitely not a believer in taking the pessimistic view, but let’s set ourselves some serious indicators of how we can improve and grow as a cultural community. If we don’t gather the stats we need to track our progress (or lack of it), who will?

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