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E-BLAST: Do the Arts Need Toronto, or Does Toronto Need the Arts?

As we enter what I like to call “festival season”, I’m posing a question to you, readers: Do the arts need Toronto, or does Toronto need the arts? In my view, the answer is clear—it’s both. It is no accident that almost every nation’s most vibrant arts communities are in core cities. No matter what discipline of arts and culture you’re in, you need busy places to build audiences, develop talent, grow institutions, and be inspired by one another. But it works both ways. Cities also need artists—to help us grow our economy and drive tourism, but also to help build connection, understanding, and a shared identity for Torontonians. This week, I want to take a deep dive into Toronto’s arts and culture sector and highlight just how important this work is to our city.

A photo from Caribana, now called the Toronto Caribbean Carnival

While major cities are home to the largest arts communities, we know that creative people can spring up from anywhere—some of our most revered artists hail from small towns around the world. Eventually, though, creatives need to be amongst other creatives. This is central to why a city needs the arts.

When we think of “creatives”, we usually think about people working in film, television, dance, theatre, visual arts, music… but the reality is, every enterprise requires creativity. Whether you’re building new information systems in banking, designing mobility networks, testing out new retail products, or running a government, you need creative thinkers. You also need a thriving arts scene to keep those creative juices flowing and inspire visionaries in every field. Access to arts and culture is a major consideration when companies decide whether to locate in Toronto. Every CEO knows that creative cities with a thriving arts and culture scene provide access to the most exciting talent. The arts scene is also a big factor in attracting major conferences, which shine a spotlight on Toronto and provide a huge boost to our tourism numbers.

Here at the City, we couple economic development and culture in one division because we know just how strong this relationship is. Since the beginning of 2023, I’ve been co-chairing a panel of leaders in the arts and culture sector to work on our next ten-year Culture Plan. We have fantastic partners at the table, all of whom have done a great job distilling the challenges being faced across the sector: audience patterns are different, investor behaviour is different, and creatives are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the city. We need to do all we can to make sure our arts and culture sector thrives.

We know that for every $1 we invest in the arts, we get back at least $8 in economic benefits. We just need to make sure we are spending effectively for impact and growth. That’s part of the reason the City is developing the Culture Plan and revamping other programs that support arts and culture in our city. A particular focus right now is supporting our city’s wide variety of festivals. Between the sustained impacts of the pandemic and rising costs across the board, many festivals are facing significant challenges this season. We know how essential these events are to our city’s cultural landscape, and the significant economic activity and long-term interest they generate in Toronto. We will be announcing a program shortly that is designed to provide immediate financial support to festivals, allowing them to stabilize their operations and continue their impactful programming in 2024.

Our new Culture Plan will be drafted and presented to Council early in the fall. In the meantime, the arts never stop. That is especially true at this time of year, when dozens of festivals and hundreds of performances electrify our city.  Here are a few ways to get out and enjoy our incredible arts and culture scene this summer:

Luminato 2024 just kicked off last night and is running until June 16th. Founded in 2007 by David Pecaut and Tony Gagliano, Luminato is an international arts festival dedicated to big, bold works of contemporary art that cut across traditional artistic boundaries. It was originally created to help Toronto rebuild after the SARS epidemic. Today, Luminato is one of Canada’s most active, commissioning over 100 new works across disciplines. We’re quite fortunate to have significant Provincial support for this festival, and the incredible vision of CEO Celia Smith and her Board. They know that the arts are essential to building stronger, more connected communities. Check out the link below and get your calendars out—you’re going to want to make Luminato plans.

A photo from Walk with Amal, a major feature of the 2023 Luminato Festival.

Nestled within Luminato this year is another fantastic event—the 50th anniversary celebration of the Toronto Arts Council (TAC) at Luminato in the Square. Each and every one of us should celebrate the TAC. This brilliant organization has continued to grow and adapt to support artists in every corner of the city for decades. TAC administers the majority of the City’s grants for creatives, and is very adept at raising funds from both the private sector and other orders of government. TAC is a large part of why our culture sector is very much a community, and one where everyone roots for its collective success. Their birthday party on June 13th is a can’t-miss event and will be packed with present and future stars of the Toronto arts scene.

Another major festival this month is Pride. When you think about Pride month, you might only think about the annual parade, but the festival is so much more. For the entire month of June, you can enjoy dozens of visual art installations, performance pieces, and the fabulous Inside Out Film Festival. Your attendance at any of these artistic experiences helps strengthen the incredible community of queer artists who call Toronto home and contribute to our city’s vibrancy and identity.

If you still like to enjoy your arts happenings online, consider TJFF, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. The main festival is running until June 9 and offers both in-person and virtual showings. TJFF also has offerings all year round. I recently downloaded their collection of free short films, and found everything from the darkly funny The Anne Frank Gift Shop to the uniquely beautiful yet painful animated short Pisces. And don’t forget, our major film festival is just around the corner. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) will begin to announce their festival lineup soon.

As I mentioned earlier in the column, you can also find dozens of street festivals in every corner of our city in the weeks ahead. Festivals like Taste of Lawrence, Taste of Little Italy, and Taste of Manila have incredible food to try while enjoying cultural arts, music, and dance. The Na Me Res Pow Wow and Indigenous Arts Festival marks Indigenous Peoples Month, and highlights Indigenous arts, craft, dance, and more. Afrofest and Salsa on St. Clair are two other favourites that are always a blast.

The Na Me Res Pow Wow.

I’ll leave you with one last thought: Our arts sector and our city don’t just need each other, they also need you. Arts would be nothing without audiences, so be sure to get out this summer and dive into the incredible array of arts and cultural offerings here in Toronto.


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