February 2, 2015 - Gaetane Verna Deputation

Toronto City Hall, Committee Room 1 Gaetane Verna, Board Member, Toronto Arts Council

Budget Chief and members of the committee:  My name is Gaetane Verna.  I am replacing Nova Bhattacharya who had to be in rehearsal.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

Claire has told you all about the really great accomplishments and effects of new investment at Toronto Arts Council.

Now I have the task of addressing the question of next steps.  I am a Member of the Board of TAC and the Director of the Power Plant Gallery.    

The not so good news goes back to our $25 per capita goal.  As you know so well, this goal was first set in 2003 to reach parity with Montreal.  Toronto is on track to reach this goal by 2017.  In the meantime, however, by 2012 Montreal’s per capita funding had grown to $55.  In the same period Calgary has catapulted over Toronto and is spending $47 per capita.  In fact, Toronto is outspent by all major Canadian and many US centres.

This matters, because while it is true that TAC has been able to create some fabulous new programming and to reduce some of the most significant gaps in our funding we have not been able to come close the investment levels required to meet identified needs and truly sustain our arts organizations.   

Further, the problem of low levels of investment is significantly compounded by all the other problems affecting Toronto today.  You are going to hear from many members of the public who will talk about what is needed for Toronto to realize its potential as a great city.  Many of the needs being expressed by others are also faced by individual artists every day.  Affordable housing, reliable transit, available daycare – our artists also have to live in this city.

In addition, artists face another hurdle.  Some of you may have seen the growing concern being voiced in the news about the inability of artists to make a living.  The rise of digital technology and the public desire to get arts programming for free are contributing to an untenable situation for today’s artists.

According to national research, despite much higher than average levels of formal education Canadian artists earn much lower than the average income.  In Canada the average artist earns $15,343 less than the average Canadian worker.  The average dancer, for example, has an annual income of less than $18,000.  This puts them well below the low income cut-off.  Put this in the context of the economic impact brought by the cultural sector.  As you know, this community is contributing $11.9 billion annually to Toronto’s GDP.  And yet, many artists are finding it impossible to remain in Toronto. 

We therefore extend the challenge to you, Budget Committee and City Council.  Going forward, Toronto needs a new investment plan for its arts sector.  A plan that will put Toronto on equal footing with comparable Canadian and US cities.  And, Toronto’s artists also require the city to invest in transit, housing and infrastructure. And, we all need to look at the future of the arts and begin to tackle the issue of a living wage for our artists.  We suggest that it is time that the City seriously considers adopting some of the revenue tools available to it to allow the necessary investment.

If Toronto cannot address the needs of its artists, they will leave.  Artists are mobile.  If we can’t create a plan that encourages our artists to stay in Toronto they will head for other cities that will be only too happy to accept their creative talents.  Clearly the economic and social impact of this loss would be devastating.  

We all look forward to the start of this new conversation.

Thank you.