Some of society’s greatest feats and accomplishments were born from unyielding creative ingenuity. From the pyramids at Giza to the iPhone, we have all benefited from creative inspiration.
With the importance creative exploration plays in the advancement of society, it comes as a shock and disappointment to see so many arts and cultural programs struggling to stay afloat amid an ongoing decrease in arts program enrollment.
In the continuing attempt to balance city, provincial and national budgets, arts programs and spending in North America is often the first casualty of fiscal restraint. This is especially true in Toronto, where arts promotion often takes a backseat to transit, infrastructure and congestion issues.
Last year, the Toronto Star published a report commissioned by Art Data that featured a detailed breakdown of arts funding in Ontario. The report found Toronto ended up short when it came to arts spending compared to Canada’s other major cities and arts hubs.
“In 2003, Toronto promised to raise its funding from $14 per resident to $25 by 2017 to bring Toronto up to par with other major Canadian cities such as Montreal,” said Karen Mazurkewich, Arts consultant and author of the report. “Flash forward a decade later, and Montreal is now at $55 a person, while Toronto still lags at $21 per resident.”
The discrepancy in funding is even more dire when you take into consideration that Toronto is home to more than 20 percent of Canada’s working artists.
The frustration over Toronto city council’s lack of arts investment and appreciation was echoed by Susan Wright, director of operations at the Toronto Arts Council.
“It’s perceived as a frill, it’s perceived as a nice to have, not an essential,” she said.
Despite the city councilor’s inability to view arts as a priority, arts, culture and heritage remain one of the top economic contributors for Canada. According to 2014 Statistics Canada data, arts, culture and heritage contributes more than $47.8 billion to the Canadian economy each year.
As one of Canada’s most impactful sectors, the arts and culture industry represents 7.4 percent of real GDP and accounts for approximately 1.1 million jobs, which is more than the mining, forestry and fisheries sectors, and the Canadian Forces, combined.
Former president of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and creative entrepreneur Jeff Melanson has been a longstanding advocate for arts investment. For Melanson, the Canadian identity is intrinsically tied to creativity.
“Just look at the Blackberry, one of the most significant telecommunication developments of our times and it came out of Ontario,” said Jeff Melanson.
As Jeff Melanson also noted, “Creativity isn’t only about the arts, it affects every industry and sector,” he said. “However, it is nurtured and advanced through the arts and that’s why enhanced investment is important.”
While arts funding languished under the previous federal government, the federal liberals elected last year have promised to reinvest and increase funding for the arts across the country.
Earlier this year, the government announced plans to spend $1.9 billion over the next five years on arts and culture investment. This means many of the Toronto-based organizations will get a much needed economic boost.
“It’s a game changer,” said Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council. “We can begin writing a new chapter on the artistic and cultural history of this country.”