Mitchell Marcus, CEO, The Musical Stage Company

Good morning Mayor Tory, Budget Chief Councillor Crawford and Budget Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in today’s deputations.

January 25, 2022

My name is Mitchell Marcus and I am an arts leader in Toronto.

I am the founder and CEO of The Musical Stage Company – Canada’s largest and leading not-for-profit musical theatre company, a past producer at Luminato, a volunteer committee member for several Ontario arts initiatives, and a recent recipient of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.

First off, I want to thank you all for recommending a $1.83 million increase to Economic Development and Culture, of which the Toronto Arts Council is recommended to receive a 2% increase of $500,000. This is vital and necessary support for a sector that has been incredibly hard hit through the pandemic.

Today though, I want to zoom out and speak to you more broadly about how arts and culture can help our city recover and the need for an urgent Culture Plan.

The Toronto Arts Council funds over 1000 arts organizations and individual professional artists each year which means that the increase of $500,000 – while deeply appreciated and necessary – cannot come close to addressing the magnitude of need. So as long as our municipal budgets remain understandably stretched, the only way you can help our sector - which lights up Toronto day after day and makes a significant economic impact - is to think more holistically about what the role of arts and culture in recovery looks like.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article called “The Math of A Shutdown” which has been shared hundreds of times and featured on CBC. The essence of that article was that while governments at all levels have done a fine job of keeping arts organizations from shuttering, they have done little to encourage the kind of innovation that could utilize the incredible creative capital in our arts sector to help revitalize our cities and address COVID challenges.

Case in point: CERB and the CRB program were lifesavers for Canadian artists who were not eligible for EI, providing them with up to $2000 per month. But could there have been a more innovative strategy to protect our artists financially while also benefitting from their remarkable imagination and creativity? What if there was a pandemic strategy that didn’t just put artists and arts organizations on life support, waiting for COVID to pass in order to become useful again?

Imagine significant works of public art being created right now lighting up the city and making us all feel more connected to each other. Imagine artists offering classes and programs in our parks and on our screens. Imagine performances taking place in the street that people could have watched safely from their windows or balconies to boost levels of joy and hope. Imagine the creative services that artists could have offered to schools and community centres. Or how the arts could have been used as a draw to get people to vaccination clinics or back on the TTC.

We have missed the boat when it comes to recognizing the potential of arts and culture.

Other cities – like Chicago – have recognized arts and culture as a secret weapon to help their city recover. As part of their announcement last Spring of a $60 million arts initiative, Mayor Lori Lightfood said: “We will not only be able to revitalize this critical sector and provide support to our artists, creative workers and organizations, but also place the arts at the center of our city's recovery efforts." And Mark Kelly, the commissioner of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events said: "The entire city government is now involved. It's embedding the arts in the city.”

Bottom line – I’m here to tell you today that our creative human capital has more to offer you. That potential has not been realized over the last two years in part because no up-to-date Culture Plan exists at the city that considers the totality of what our sector is capable of.

But it’s not too late.

As a city, we have a long road ahead to recovery. Let’s reset our thinking now and turn our focus to a robust and responsive Culture Plan that examines the breadth of what our world-class artists can offer to a city that needs to find its way forward and give it the funding it needs for implementation.

I guarantee you that there are creative solutions to the problems facing Toronto that no one has considered yet. And I know 174,000 Torontonians who have just the imagination skills to help you discover them.