Claire Hopkinson, Director & CEO, Toronto Arts Council and Jason Ryle, TAC President
Budget chief and City Councillors:
Thank you very much for allowing us the opportunity to speak with you today.
January 25, 2022
My name is Jason Ryle and I am President of TAC’s Board of Directors, a filmmaker and until recently the Executive Director of ImagineNATIVE.
First of all – let me say how proud I am to be on the Board of TAC – an organization which has acted quickly and effectively throughout the pandemic and continues to offer support and solutions as we contend with Omicron.
We have created important new funding opportunities including the extremely valuable COVID response fund for artists and an expanded Open Door program for organizations. We have ensured our artists have been kept up to date on all federal and provincial response initiatives and offered flexibility and support with our granting programs throughout.
Of particular relevance to City Budget 2022 and its focus to serve Indigenous, Black and equity-deserving communities is TAC’s continued commitment to equity and inclusion. TAC continues to stress the importance of equity in all our work and has been recognized as a leader among arts funders, being regularly consulted for advice by arts councils across North America.
In the summer of 2020, amidst the renewed focus on Black Lives Matter and the urgent need to confront anti-black racism, TAC launched community consultations and committed support for a new annual Black Arts grants program. The first iteration of the program was successfully rolled out in 2021 with a total of $850,000 allocated to 45 individual artists and 14 organizations a couple of months ago. It was an extremely competitive program, as are many programs at TAC, with 38% of applicants securing funding.
Despite the work of TAC and that of our colleagues at the city and all other arts councils - Toronto’s arts sector is in trouble. According to Stats Canada it has been amongst the very hardest hit by the pandemic. Over the last two years, we have endured four shut downs leading to devastating loss to the sector in earned revenues, in employment, in artists incomes.
The most recent shutdown has been the most heartbreaking. First of all it most affects those artists and organizations who have tried the hardest. The organizations that have braved through these 20 months, taking risks, responding to our collective need for optimism by investing time and resources into reopening. After months of planning, many re-openings were scheduled for last month and this - only to have everything crash down on them once again.
Secondly, even after two years of advocacy, explanations and presentations which demonstrated both the relative safety of arts exhibitions and performances as well as the huge costs associated with openings and closures – provincial regulations have once again failed Toronto’s arts sector. After all this time, there is no excuse for allowing retail to remain open while exhibitions and performances are locked down on 3 days’ notice. What could possibly be the rationale for allowing crowds into Winners while closing galleries and performance venues that have invested far more into systems and people to ensure patrons are vaccinated, distancing is observed and masking enforced?
The cost to our arts organizations is massive.
With continued federal support and the support of arts councils at all levels including Toronto Arts Council, we are hopeful that most organizations will survive.
The greater risk is to our individual artists. Long before the pandemic we began raising the alarm that artists are unable to afford to live and work in Toronto. What was a dire situation then has become a catastrophic one now. Poorly paid work has deteriorated into no work at all. Artists are leaving, not just Toronto, but the arts. And, once gone, they may not return.
Where does this leave us – and you, our civic leaders, as we finalize the City’s 2022 budget.
I am going to turn to Claire who has some suggestions.
I’d like to start by expressing my deep appreciation for all you are doing to assist our arts sector and our city as we get through the pandemic. I feel privileged to work with artists, arts workers, volunteers, City staff and City leaders such as yourselves as we work to rebuild and reopen Toronto.
I also want to acknowledge your continued confidence in TAC. As Toronto’s primary arts granting organization, we accept responsibility for disbursing over $25 million annually in support of our artists and arts organizations, equitably, transparently, and in keeping with a vision to expand access to the arts to everyone in Toronto. The critically important $500,000 enhancement that is recommended for this year’s budget is, while short of our 2 million dollar request, much appreciated. I assure you that TAC will continue to meet your highest expectations.
Jason has laid out a pretty dire picture.
The outlook for the arts in Toronto – despite all that has been and continues to be accomplished, is challenging. On top of the threat posed by the pandemic the sector is grappling with two significant systemic issues:
- Space including creation space, rehearsal space, performance and exhibition space, continues to be unaffordable in Toronto. Covid closures have exacerbated this long standing problem, and are leading to an exodus of artists.
- The digital economy has left many artists, musicians in particular, with no viable opportunities to earn a living. Arts work is more precarious than ever and COVID continues to wreak havoc on paid contracts.
Given the long standing nature of this crisis, the limitations of the city’s regulatory scope and its resources - we are not looking for a fix in the 2022 budget.
We do however have three very specific suggestions:
1. We ask City Council to work with us to advocate for fairer pandemic regulations from the province;
2. Support us in our federal advocacy work for a Guaranteed Basic Income;
3. And, most importantly, commit to working with the sector to develop a responsive Culture Plan that includes targets for funding, arts space and equity that will be sufficient to propel Toronto through the next decade.
TAC, our Board, staff & volunteers commit to working with you to set the objectives and goals for the Culture Plan to guide the arts in the next decade.
We know how much our City is depending on our artists and arts organizations for revitalization once we finally are able to reopen.
The arts will be key economic drivers:
- Restoring confidence to patrons
- Repopulating restaurants and retail centres
- Attracting tourists
- Serving as a jobs magnate for other industries
We know too that the city is depending on the arts to support its social objectives:
- Increasing employment opportunities for our racialized youth
- Improving the mental health of our residents
- Engaging residents as they attend and volunteer for events in their communities
Through performances, exhibitions, readings and events our artists have always been key to ensuring Toronto is a vibrant international city. In a post-pandemic world, they will be more important than ever.