Imagine a toronto...

1. People. Toronto has a vast and varied pool of creative talent, but much of it remains untapped. Unless we make the most of our people and their creativity, we will not reap the economic and social benefits that a creative city has to offer.
Toronto is full of creative people, making a living from their creative talent and participating in creative activities to learn, play, dream and be inspired.

Creative Participation: Numerous performances and exhibits take place in theatres, museums and other venues across the city. Almost two million adults a year go to the theatre and 160 clubs in the city feature DJs, musicians and comedians.5 The Toronto International Film Festival – the world’s largest public film festival (measured in number of screenings) and second only to Cannes in stature – showed 355 films in 2005, while the Fringe Festival, Toronto’s largest theatre festival, will host over 130 productions across 24 venues in 2006.6 Overall, estimated attendance at city-funded cultural events was over 10.5 million in 2004.7

Toronto’s cultural institutions and events provide major opportunities for cultural participation by local residents and visitors alike. The Royal Ontario Museum welcomes between 750,000 and 1 million visitors8 and the Art Gallery of Ontario receives over 650,000 visitors annually.9 Festivals in Toronto also see high numbers of attendees:10

— Word on the Street (Canada’s largest outdoor book and magazine festival): 200,000 expected to attend in 200611

— Caribana (Toronto’s summer Caribbean festival – the largest in North America): over 1 million estimated attendance12

— Pride Week Activities: 1 million estimated attendance13

Creative Workers: At the last census (2001) there were over 62,000 people working in creative occupations in the city-region. Taking a wider view, one that includes those who routinely exercise their creativity while working in a broader array of occupations (such as life sciences, physical and social sciences),14 this figure would rise to something approaching 400,000.15 From 1991 to 2004, creative occupations grew at more than three times the rate of the total Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) labour force, at a compound annual growth rate of 6 percent (see Figure 1). The fastest growing creative occupations during this period were editors, writers and performing artists.16 Toronto ranks second in North America after Vancouver on Richard Florida’s Bohemian Index – a measure of artistically creative people.17

Multicultural Toronto: Toronto’s multicultural population is a vital source of creative talent. Populations from around the world bring their skills, experience, social networks and artistic traditions to the city, and they develop new ones through their interaction with other cultures. In doing so, they represent a critically important economic asset. Moreover, their very presence stands as an indicator of the city’s openness to diverse newcomers. In 2001, nearly 45 percent of the region’s population was foreign-born, a proportion considerably higher than any other metropolitan area in North America or Europe.18 The top five new immigrant groups to Toronto in 2001 were from China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.19

Higher Education Institutions: The Toronto region is home to an abundance of educational institutions providing advanced instruction and training across the creative sectors, including the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson University and colleges such as Sheridan, George Brown, Seneca, Centennial and Humber. Creative programs at Ontario colleges produce more than 7,000 graduates in fields such as Visual and Performing Arts, Architecture, Advertising, Design, Fashion and Media.20

Grassroots Creative Activity: Creative activity is springing up in neighbourhoods across the city. Queen Street West, for example, has been a hub of creative activity for decades. From music venues to fashion businesses to art galleries, vibrant arts culture has transformed this strip in a continuous westward creative wave. But this transformation has been followed by another wave of gentrification and rising rents, forcing many pioneering artists, galleries and shops to relocate. Nevertheless, creative activity continues to thrive further west on Queen Street.

In Regent Park, grassroots creative talent development flourishes in Canada’s largest and oldest public housing development. Regent Park Focus is a non-profit organization using multiple media to engage youth and encourage creative expression. With its radio station, newspaper, photography program, music studio, and film and video program, Regent Park Focus teaches creative skills to youth, skills that include broadcasting, DJing, writing, editing, audio production, filmmaking, photography and desktop publishing. Through these media, youth have an opportunity to find their voice on community issues and gain valuable experience for future work in the media industry. Successful ‘alumni’ often go on to teach courses in the program, continuing to engage with their peers and local issues.21 Regent Park Focus, along with other projects such as the Regent Park Film Festival, identifies and develops creative talent in one of Toronto’s many diverse neighbourhoods.

In the South Etobicoke neighbourhood, the Inner City Visions (I.C. Visions) Project has also had success as young people work with their peers to provide youth engagement, leadership development, life skills and technical skills programs through urban music and culture. As the first government-funded hip-hop recreational centre in North America, I.C. Visions provides a safe environment where youth can express themselves creatively while representing their community. Through its urban music oriented recreational program, I.C. Visions delivers music industry workshops and seminars, talent showcases and competitions, an art and photography project, a basketball program, and sponsors a clothing line called Face the Sun.22

Strengths and Challenges

Toronto has deep reservoirs of talent, but a strong consensus amongst the creative industry leaders assembled for this project indicates that much of this talent remains underutilized or underdeveloped. Consequently, important economic and social benefits go unrealized. More avenues for wider participation in both the consumption and production of creative activity must be provided.

Toronto’s multicultural population, a source of vibrant creative expression, is one such underutilized asset. Language barriers, discrimination and income barriers limit participation by new immigrants and visible minorities, who are increasingly concentrated in the city’s disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The grassroots creative activity in neighbourhoods like Regent Park represents promising but isolated projects that need to be scaled up and replicated in other parts of the city-region.

Toronto’s large youth cohort is another tremendous creative asset: there are over 1.2 million people under the age of 20 living in the Toronto region.23 But how can youth be enabled to realize their full potential for creative expression, especially when cuts to government funding over the past decade have forced public schools to make difficult decisions about where to allocate resources? Too often, specialist art teachers, music programs and drama productions have been deemed expendable. The result is that “for many students, their access to the arts depends on where they live and their parents’ ability to pay for private lessons or fundraise for arts in their schools.”24

Cuts to after-school community music and arts programs disproportionately affect youth in lower-income households. The Fresh Arts program, initiated by the Toronto Arts Council, is an example of a community creativity-based program that successfully developed youth skills in a supportive environment (as described in the sidebar at left). Fresh Arts gave the city a significant number of cultural producers – artists, singers, rappers, filmmakers and videomakers. Many successful musicians on Toronto’s urban music scene, including Kardinal Offishall, Julee Black, Motion and Jelleestone, participated in this program while growing up in marginalized Toronto communities. In the context of recent gun violence in Toronto, these artists have pointed to programs like Fresh Arts as providing a safe environment where they could develop their musical abilities rather than get into trouble.25 Similarly, Rinaldo Walcott, Canada Research Chair in Social Justice and Cultural Studies at OISE/UT, points to the cultural outlets provided by programs like Fresh Arts as effective ways to bring alienated youth into the Canadian family:

What we need are programs that will allow young people to engage with and make sense of the ways in which they can contribute to the culture of their communities and beyond. Such an approach means providing young people spaces where they can offer up alternatives.26

Arts education, libraries and music in the school system must not be seen as frills. In today’s creative economy, they are as important as science and math in improving our productivity and preparing young people for success in life. In both the public education system and community programming, creative disciplines must be promoted as providing economic opportunity and viable career paths. By exposing all youth to creative curriculum and access to creative careers, the seeds for tomorrow’s creative workforce can be sewn today. Furthermore, creativity-enhancing curriculum in school and community programs imparts skills beyond those leading to a future career in traditional creative disciplines. Youth learn to solve problems, ‘think outside the box’, develop creative solutions, gain confidence and express themselves – vital capabilities of the workforce in many industries and professions throughout the economy.

Opportunities: Putting People First

1. Expand Creative Programming for Youth
All youth in Toronto, regardless of where they live, should have access to free, high-quality education and training in creative activities such as visual arts, music, theatre, dance, and media. Expanding creative programs of this sort will complement recent public investments in major cultural institutions by investing in the creative capacity of future artists and creative workers.

This goal can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Here are just two ideas:

‘Doors Open’ visits for schools – The popular ‘Doors Open Toronto’ program27 could be expanded so school children can visit culturally significant buildings during the school week. This program would expose young people to inspiring creative spaces and great architecture.

Free museums and art galleries for under- 20’s – Once again, barriers to creative exposure could be removed by giving young people from all neighbourhoods and income levels free access to public museums and art galleries.

2. Transform Local Community Centres into Creative Community Hubs
Toronto has many thriving community centres that can and should be transformed into neighbourhood hubs. Creative Community Hubs would combine cultural/creative development programs with the economic revitalization of an at-risk neighbourhood by providing enabling financial support and services. This approach capitalizes on existing organizations and knowledge of local issues and conditions, allowing programs to be developed and adapted to each neighbourhood’s specific needs and creative talent – whether in the central city or more suburban locations. Pilot projects could be carried out in a few neighbourhoods to start, both downtown and in Toronto’s suburbs.

The Point Community Development Corporation in New York City is an effective example of this type of creative community programming linked to local economic development. The Point uses the creative heritage of the South Bronx (a neighbourhood better known for poverty, crime, poor schools and inadequate housing) to catalyze community development by encouraging youth to cultivate their artistic and entrepreneurial capabilities. The Point recognizes the talent and aspirations of local residents as the area’s greatest assets and offers programs to develop that talent in music, dance, photography, theatre, fashion and other disciplines. Enterprise and community development activities are connected to the artistic programs while, at the same time, small businesses and non-profit organizations are incubated. In the process, the Point promotes projects that address locally relevant concerns such as transportation, pollution, open space and environmental stewardship.28

Another example of successful leveraging of local resources in this manner can be found in Creative London’s Hub Strategy, working in areas of London with high concentrations of creative businesses. In each neighbourhood, a lead organization is designated as a focal point through which further assistance to cultural industries and creative activities is channelled to continue addressing local needs. Hubs differ in their structure depending on local circumstances, but can act as incubators for creative businesses, clearinghouses of information on locally available property, developers of long-term plans for the local creative sector and promoters of local creative work.29 In many neighbourhoods, Creative London is using this approach to address the needs of economically and socially disadvantaged communities. In this way, they are pursuing an economic development strategy that is both creativity-based and socially inclusive.

3. Fund Arts and Creativity in Public Education
Experience in California (as described in the sidebar on Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley) confirms that long-term neglect of arts education in public schools weakens a city’s attractiveness to highly educated workers with school-age children. Toronto cannot afford to take this risk at a time when its economic future depends on its ability to generate, attract and retain a talented workforce.

As long as funding of arts and creativity remains unstable and spatially uneven within the public school system, Toronto’s youth are being short-changed. We are giving them less of an education than they deserve and limiting their ability to succeed, as well as the ability of the region to reap the social and economic benefits of their education.

While governments are prepared to acknowledge the importance of arts programming, they are not always prepared to fund it. Stronger advocacy on the part of parents, communities and educators is essential to ensure that governments make arts programming a priority in public education.

This is largely but not solely an appeal to governments. Private sector partners who are prepared to fund arts programs in schools must be encouraged to step up to the plate and help the artists and creative workforce of tomorrow – people, in fact, they may some day be employing – receive a full and well-rounded education that includes the arts.

After a 30-year decline in arts curriculum in public schools in California, a survey of residents in Silicon Valley identified the poor state of arts-based education as an issue of great concern to local residents. Some three-quarters of the population were engaged in some kind of creative activity outside their high-tech day jobs, and they wanted their children to learn creatively as well. As a result, CISV (a non-profit organization formed to enrich the creative life of
Silicon Valley) launched the Creative Education Program to provide cash grants, technical assistance, and professional development to public elementary schools in Santa Clara County. The program’s goal is to have all K-6 students participate in weekly, sequential, standards-based, in-school arts instruction in one or more disciplines (dance, music, theatre and visual arts). Each grant site makes a five-year commitment to create, improve or expand arts education programs for its students. The Creative Education Program provides four years of seed money for planning, pilot, and implementation, with the grant site gradually assuming financial responsibility for the program by the fifth year.