We’re appreciated, valued and thought highly of

by Jini Stolk

The results of Bringing the City Alive, a recent Leger survey done on behalf of the Toronto Arts Foundation, weren’t surprising – but they definitely boosted my spirits.

The good news included the information that three-quarters of GTA residents agree that the arts provide important benefits to the city such as attracting tourists, highlighting diversity, improving the economy and creating jobs; support for further increases to arts funding remains strong; 70% of residents regularly participate in the arts by attending events, volunteering, or donating; and one in four are actively creative, participating in amateur arts groups or community arts projects, taking classes, or making their living as professional artists. The full report on this fascinating survey is available here .

I feel a bit like Sally Fields (“You like me. You really like me!”) But in all seriousness, it’s important that we understand and reflect on the fact that what we are doing is meaningful to and appreciated by the people of the city we live in. It adds a layer of responsibility to our work, and a heightened incentive to build and diversify our audiences and outreach activities.

It’s equally important to note that despite the survey’s findings of such high levels of interest and engagement, a full 83% of GTA residents said that they face barriers to attending arts programming. Among these barriers are time (which we might be able to address with some creative thinking) and cost, which we will definitely have to find ways to address. I’ve recently thought that Toronto’s arts community should reclaim and rejoice in our Pay-What-You-Can tradition and in the good work of TAPA’s half price ticket booth  – just as a start.

The Toronto Arts Foundation, on behalf of us all, is working to increase access to arts programming in every neighbourhood of the city, and offering opportunities for people to support and participate in the arts. They’ve been creating new partnerships with groups like ArtReach Toronto (supporting community engaged youth initiatives),Platform A (supporting new mentorships and connections between community based and established organizations) and Business for the Arts (supporting ArtsVest Toronto, a business sponsorship matching grant and learning program), and new programs that support artists working outside the downtown core, responding to needs in neighbourhoods across Toronto, with partners including the Toronto Public Library, City of Toronto Museums and Toronto District School Board.

The City of Amsterdam has taken it a few steps further according to Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf, with the strong support of its national Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science, the Dutch Centre of Expertise for Cultural Education and Amateur Arts, and the Cultural Participation Fund. Recognizing the role of cultural participation in national identity, education, innovation, and the economy, Amsterdam has determined to become the city with Europe’s fastest growing creative sector – not by attracting creative workers, but by growing their own. The process includes guaranteeing every child three in-school hours of cultural education a week throughout primary school; and enrolling every secondary school student in a Creative Arts Class while providing them with a passport to venues and events. The city’s cultural institutions have been funded to provide robust extracurricular programs – for instance, the Rijksmuseum provides free visits and free transportation to schools throughout the Netherlands; and the city is home to a growing number of post-secondary entrepreneurial art and design schools and training institutions.

A far-sighted urban agenda! This is something I could get behind in our own upcoming provincial and federal elections.


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