by Jini Stolk
The Toronto Arts Council has had the welcome, but challenging, task of spending a significant influx of new funding ($4 million in 2013) quickly, strategically and very effectively.
Half of the new funding went to supplement and increase equity in current programs. For the rest the TAC not only had to devise programs that would fill real gaps and long-felt needs, respond to the city’s explosion of new artistic voices, and ensure that artists from every part of the city have access to support and recognition. They would also have to demonstrate to City Councilors** the value of increasing arts funding during a time of cutbacks and constraint, exemplifying the strong relationship between new grant monies and their potentially transformational impact on young people, communities, and Toronto as a whole.
Arts funding, according to Andrew Taylor in this recent post in The Artful Manager, is always a contract with the public trust.
One of the ways the Toronto Arts Council has responded is by creating new partnerships with groups like ArtReach Toronto (supporting community engaged youth initiatives), Platform A (supporting new mentorships and connections between community based and established organizations) and Business for the Arts (supporting ArtsVest Toronto, a business sponsorship matching grant and learning program.)
Three additional programs support artists working outside the downtown core, responding to needs in neighbourhoods across Toronto. The TAC’s partners – Toronto Public Library , City of Toronto Museums and Toronto District School Board – have been on the arts community’s “to do” list for quite some time. I’ve been involved personally in numerous discussions about the need to weave the arts more effectively into people’s lives through libraries, museums and schools. These discussions have always combined the practical (artists need new outlets for their work) with the aspirational (schools, libraries and other public spaces offer unmatched potential for audience development and arts engagement.)
These new programs are important first steps, offering opportunities for artists to do their work better, grow revenues, and animate Toronto’s historic, educational and public spaces in all corners of the city – while helping to build what we all hope will be lasting (and very much win/win) relationships.
Details of the newest partnership programs (which will include programming and research activities at up to five historic sites; artist residency programs in a number of local library branches; and a spring festival celebrating the arts in TDSB schools across the city, in partnership with Prologue for the Performing Arts) are available at www.torontoartscouncil.org; the deadlines for applications are January 15th and 24th, 2014.
** Breaking (and possibly heart-breaking?) news is that the current City Budget Recommendation for arts funding is that the $25 per capita commitment be spread over 4 more years for completion by 2017. Last year’s City Council commitment was to achieve the target by 2016 with a $6 million increase to all arts funding in 2014 towards this goal (remember that the arts community had originally asked that this target be met in 2008, then in 2013.) The city staff recommendation is for just a $3.6 million increase in 2014 – approximately half of what has been requested and anticipated. Agreeing to this ramp back would stall momentum, and opens up the possibility that 2014’s newly elected Council might renege on the long term commitment.
It’s time for all of us to let Council members know that we are sticking to the four-year roll out plan, and that they should too!