TORONTO –While city council works to amend the proposed 2013 budget, two city councillors are hoping to create a discussion about increasing the amount of funding that is sent to the city’s burgeoning arts scene.
In an e-mail sent to city council, Councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam suggested that per capita funding be increased from $18 to $25.
“For ten years, various Toronto City Councils have periodically affirmed and re-affirmed our commitment to increase the per capita arts and culture funding to twenty-five dollars,” the two councillors wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, previous political commitments remain unfulfilled.”
Arts funding in Toronto falls short of other large American cities such as Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, that fund their arts at $26, $74, and $87 per capita, respectively.
Montreal funds arts at $32 per capita, for a total of $89 million in 2009.
Matlow thinks Toronto can do more to help artists in the city and follow through on several previous commitments to increase funding levels.
“Toronto is one of the leading cities in the world for live-theatre, we are one of the film capitals globally, and increasingly a centre for the world’s music scene but the arts and culture community needs investment so we can create jobs, generate our economy, and contribute to the quality of life for residents and visitors to our city,” Matlow said.
City council has made several pledges to increase funding to $25 per capita but has failed to write any cheques.
“It’s all fine and well to make announcements, but to actually follow through and write the cheque is different,” Matlow said. “What I’m asking council to do is to follow through with the commitment it has made.”
Arts funding in Toronto helps the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, as well as live music venues and local theatres.
Other large festivals such as Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Summerworks Theatre Festival and the Toronto Fringe Festival receive funding from the Toronto Arts Council, and have grown in recent years.
While city hall may constantly be fighting battles of left versus right, Matlow suggests arts funding is not an ideological issue.
Instead, Matlow says a vibrant arts community not only increases the quality of life for Toronto residents but helps create jobs including “all the restaurant jobs, and the hotels, and the taxis” as a result of events like the Toronto International Film Festival.
Toronto’s large cultural community also adds significantly to the city’s GDP, contributing more than $9 billion annually, according to the 2011 Creative Capital Gains report presented to the city’s Economic Development Committee in May.
The city’s cultural community encompasses approximately 130,000 people – six times more than Ontario’s aerospace industry and roughly the equivalent of those employed in Ontario’s automotive sector, according to the report.
Those 130,000 people can be aided in their fundraising attempts by municipal sources of money, Matlow said.
“If they don’t have some seed money to just get off the ground, then there is no bank and nobody else in the private sector that will want to support them,” Matlow said. “They can go and say ‘we’ve got the city of Toronto behind us’ and it means all the difference in the world.”
Claire Hopkinson, executive director of the Toronto Arts Council, tells Global News that the cultural sector is among the fastest growing parts of Toronto’s economy.
“It’s one of the fastest growing industries and it attracts tourists and also head offices to come to our city, to increase our prosperity,” Hopkinson said. “This is not going to have an impact on an operating budget. It is not going to have an impact on the taxpayer. So it’s win-win.”
That “win-win” is an effect of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to not hear the final appeal over Toronto’s proposed billboard tax, says Hopkinson.
The revenue generated from that billboard tax could potentially generate $10 million to put towards arts funding in the city.