We are now in the creative age – a time when the generation of economic value in a growing number of sectors depends directly on the ability of firms to embed creativity and cultural content within the goods and services they produce.

Familiar goods such as clothing, furniture and food products depend on creative and cultural content for their competitive success, and consumers are willing to pay higher prices for products that are well designed and culturally distinctive. Knowledge-intensive products such as computers, mobile communication devices and biomedical technologies are born of the innovative spark of well educated, creative workers. They also exploit appealing and ingenious design to enhance their success in the marketplace. Furthermore, a set of creative industries producing ‘cultural goods’ – including film and television production, new media, electronic games, publishing, advertising, design, music, and the visual and performing arts – now generate a large and steadily increasing share of our international trade, employment and gross domestic product locally, regionally and nationally.1

Not only does the generation of economic value flow from this creative economy, but the people who work in creative occupations and industries are themselves drawn to places that offer a critical mass of creative and cultural activity, broadly defined. These are places where the arts flourish, with vibrant and lively local scenes in music, literature, theatre and visual arts. They are cities that host cultural traditions from around the world. They welcome newcomers from a variety of ethnic, racial, religious and national origins, and provide opportunities for their easy social and economic integration. They are also places that enshrine freedom of cultural expression, places that nurture the creative act.

These developments present Toronto with an enormous opportunity – an opportunity to nurture and use its impressive creative assets, securing its place among the world’s great creative cities.

Many cities around the globe have come to recognize the economic and social benefits that flow from the creative economy, and are now implementing aggressive policies to nurture and promote creative and cultural activity. In world cities like London, New York and Berlin, and in smaller centres like Austin, Texas and Providence, Rhode Island, the development of the creative economy has become a strategic priority, and not only for generating wealth and employment opportunity. Creative and cultural activity enhances a city’s quality of place, helps to reclaim and revitalize neighbourhoods, enables more innovative thinking and problem-solving across all sectors of the economy, and shapes a city’s identity in the face of increasing competition for talent, investment and recognition. Creative and cultural activity is also a powerful vehicle for community development and engagement, providing opportunities for economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods and social groups.

Toronto already has many of the critical ingredients required of a dynamic and globally successful creative city. Its unique assets include an enviable base of talented and creative workers, a level of cultural diversity unsurpassed by any other city in the world, and a strong reputation as a safe, socially harmonious city of liveable neighbourhoods. Its regional economy boasts a wide array of creative sectors that form the foundations of its economic base. Science-based creative sectors like biotechnology and biomedical technologies have taken root and, thanks to major new investments such as the MaRS Centre, are poised to play increasingly important roles as economic engines for the Toronto region. Recent investments in the city’s major cultural venues and institutions and a thriving grassroots arts and music scene are combining to create a ‘buzz’ about this region nationally and around the world.2

Despite these many enviable strengths, Toronto’s creative economy is now at a critical juncture in its evolution. Competition from other major cities around the world continues to escalate, as they take strategic steps to position themselves as creative economy leaders. Meanwhile, at home, cultural activity still struggles to attract the continuing financial and program support it requires to thrive.
And while there is abundant evidence of innovation in many corners of the creative economy, the city lacks a region-wide, strategic approach to recognize, nurture and scale up home-grown successes, while also building on best practices identified abroad.

Therefore, this report aims to do three things:

1. Profile Toronto’s creative strengths to demonstrate that the city has many of the assets necessary for its creative economy to achieve its potential as an engine of future prosperity.

2. Highlight the challenges Toronto must overcome if it is to support the creative economy in a truly comprehensive and sustainable way.

3. Identify opportunities to strengthen Toronto’s creative economy. These opportunities are supported by instructive examples from other cities from which Toronto can learn.

This approach recognizes that the most effective way to enhance the city’s creative future is to enlist the ingenuity, know-how, energy and resources of a broad spectrum of actors in the region. It also acknowledges that the necessary financial resources have not yet been directed towards this goal. Realizing the opportunities identified in this report will depend on the respective and combined efforts of all levels of government, private sector, non-profit organizations and individuals.

As a creative city, Toronto must seize the present opportunity to deliver the social and economic benefits described above and assume its place among the world’s truly great cities.