Nova Bhattacharya, President, Toronto Arts Council

Budget Chief, City Councillors: Thank you for taking the time to hear me and so many others today.

My name is Nova Bhattacharya, I am an artist and I am the volunteer President of the Board of Toronto Arts Council.  You know what I am here to say – I am here to say that the arts are an essential pillar of a vital, compassionate city.

As members of the Budget Committee – you know this – and you know you have an important responsibility to invest in the future of Toronto.

We know - Toronto is one of the best cities in the world in which to live.  Visiting artists from around the world keep telling me that Toronto makes them feel safe, and inspires them to hope for the future. 

We know. Toronto’s artists maintain and improve our vitality while creating resilience to some of the threats facing us today. 

Beyond the obvious contributions the arts make to Toronto’s beauty and quality of life I am here to point out that they also  have a huge impact on  equity, health & well-being and income stability & prosperity. 

As our Mayor proudly notes, Toronto is the most diverse city in the world.  He is also quick to add that the arts are the ultimate unifying force in the world’s most diverse city.  People of many cultures have lived here for many years – and for years they have been enjoying the arts together - galleries, music concerts, dance performances these are the places that Toronto’s communities come to share energizing, joyful and thought provoking experiences.  Thanks to recent funding increases, events are often available at very low or no cost giving Torontonians from every neighbourhood the opportunity to enjoy the arts in their local communities.

Equity means equality for everyone who lives in Toronto. Toronto Arts Council has been focusing on equity in the arts sector since 1992 when we published Cultural Equity by Betty Julian. I am proud to say that we continue to take a leadership role and just last year formalized our equity policies within a bold new framework.

Health and well being – Many of my fellow deputants have spoken about increasing mental health concerns in this city, and the media has been reporting on this as well.  There have also been many reports about the correlation of arts participation with improved mental health.  Whether it is active art creation such as painting in your home, or participation as an audience member – numerous studies have found that being active in the arts for as little as two hours a week has a significant positive effect on mental health.

And finally – income stability & prosperity

This one is a double-edged sword.  We absolutely support those who are here today reminding us of the importance of a strong poverty reduction plan for Toronto.  Toronto’s artists while among the most celebrated, highly skilled of our city’s residents, are also among the poorest with average incomes for many well below the poverty line.  (You may have seen the picture of Michael Redhill’s bank statement that he posted with a balance of $411 prior to his winning the Giller Prize.)

And yet, our artists - innovators and creators - bring income stability and prosperity – not just for the arts sector but for the city as a whole.  We have seen artists’ dreams turn into great arts organisations, that become major employers and magnets for business and tourists. International head offices are coming here because they know Toronto is a place that embraces art and culture – and they know that in the diversity of our demographics they will find the innovative and creative people they need to work for them.

Budget chief, city councillors you already know what I am going to say - The city that Toronto aspires to be needs you to fulfil your final $2 million commitment to arts funding in the 2018 budget.

Thank you.