News / Toronto

'It’s embarrassing and it’s shameful': Arts groups push councillors for more funds

Groups led by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts met with city councillors on Thursday in hopes of securing more funding for what they say is a beleaguered industry.

Sherrie Johnson, right, Canadian Stage interim managing director, and Tim Whalley, associate director for government and community relations.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Sherrie Johnson, right, Canadian Stage interim managing director, and Tim Whalley, associate director for government and community relations.

As arts workers got ready to meet with their elected officials to ask for more funding, Jacoba Knaapen had some firm instructions.

“Read your notes, read your councillor and tailor your messaging,” she said to the crowd gathered in a conference room at city hall on Thursday. “Our strength is in our consistency, in working together, and in not splintering our message.”  

At the eighth annual Arts Day at the City, spearheaded by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) and the Friends of the Arts network, industry workers pushed councillors to free up more cash for an industry they say lags badly behind comparable Canadian hubs.

Knaapen, executive director of TAPA — which represents 210 professional dance, opera and theatre companies and 64 venues — wants Toronto to deliver on a promise made back in 2003, when arts and culture funding stood at $14 for each person, by population. That year, the city’s Culture Plan for the Creative City set a goal of $25 per-capita by 2008.

It never happened.

In the city’s 2017 operating budget, a gross total of $81 million covered economic development and culture; another $2 million would bring Toronto to the $25 target, advocates say.

“Montreal is at $78 per-capita,” Knaapen told the crowd before they headed to some 30 meetings. “We’re still trying to get to $25.... It’s embarrassing and it’s shameful.”

Jacoba Knaapen, head of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, speaks to art group members and city councillors during an orientation meeting at city hall on Thursday.

Eduardo Lima / Toronto

Jacoba Knaapen, head of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, speaks to art group members and city councillors during an orientation meeting at city hall on Thursday.

After 2018, arts leaders want Toronto to commit to further yearly increases of $2 million, so that a $50 per-capita goal can be reached by 2025. Montreal had reached $55 by 2009; Vancouver $47.

Hamal Docter of Soulpepper Theatre Company was headed to see Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest) and John Filion (Ward 23 Willowdale).  

“Politics can be a bit of a game,” Docter said. “I like to say it’s the best theatre around. When you’re one-on-one with the councillors and you get to speak to them about the impact of arts in their ward … you get some really touching moments in there.”

According to the Toronto Arts Foundation, for every dollar invested by the city, the non-profit arts bring in $8.26 in earned revenue. It says arts and culture contribute $11.3 billion annually to Toronto’s GDP.

“It makes it very personal,” Tim Whalley of Canadian Stage said of the meeting format normally involving a worker, an artist and a constituent. He met Coun. Neethan Shan (Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River) as well as an assistant to another councillor.

“It might be a small outdoor street festival, it might be something as big as TIFF, but there are artists in every community," said Whalley. "We keep it positive. Our approach is to get to know the councillors better.”

As delegates filed into nearby rooms, Knaapen urged them to show councillors a video made for the day by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, creators of the hit musical Come from Away, in which they explained how they had benefited from arts funding.

Coun. Filion, the city’s arts advocate, later said he felt there was a feeling among leaders that the $25 goal is overdue. Filion wouldn't get into increases beyond 2018.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said arts leaders want the city to reach $50 per-capita on arts spending by 2050. The target is 2025.

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