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culture

Toronto Arts Organizations Feeling Less Optimistic, Says TAPA

The results of a survey done by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts reveal a less-than-sunny outlook.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/w72/8150959273/in/faves-30577037@N03/"}woodrow waldeni{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

According to a new survey, fewer and fewer of the independent and commercial theatre, dance, and opera organizations that are members of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) are feeling “very positive” about their futures—and on Tuesday they did something about it.

November 13 marked the third annual Arts Day at the City, which saw members of TAPA, as well as Friends of the Arts (a network of arts organizations from throughout the city), meet with more than 25 city councillors to continue pushing the plan laid out in 2011′s Creative Capital Gains report, which received unanimous support from city council at the time. The report’s main goal was to make sure the city fulfills its promise of raising arts funding in Toronto to $25 per capita, up from $18.

But TAPA also used this opportunity to unveil the results from the TAPA Stats Report Phase III, a survey done between October 2011 and February 2012 that looked at the attendance, revenue, and activity of 80 of its members during the 2009–10 season. The snapshot reveals a performing arts industry that is relying less on ticket sales and more on outside sources of funding. That’s not particularly surprising, and it’s also not a particularly hopeful sign for the local industry.

Single-ticket sales reached 2.3 million in the 2009–10 season, which is pretty much on par with the years following peak sales in 2005–06. Subscriptions have continued to climb, increasing 56 per cent since 2004–05. As a result, companies reported higher attendance overall. Even so, ticket sales are making up a smaller and smaller portion of total revenue year to year: they’ve fallen from 77 per cent in 2004–05 to 65 per cent in 2009–10. This means that attractive packages and deals to get bums in seats are working (a good thing) but they’re taking a toll on the bottom line (not a great thing).

As a result, fundraising efforts and government grants are taking up the slack. Between 2004 and 2010, fundraising revenue rose from 11 per cent of total revenue to 19 per cent, and government grants went from 12 per cent to 17 per cent. Not only is this an added stress on companies in terms of manpower and instability, it’s also leading to a slight decrease in total revenue.

On a positive note, theatre, opera, and dance companies have seen attendance from high schools more than triple between 2004 and 2010, and almost half of those surveyed now spend a significant portion of their marketing budget on new media, including online and social-media initiatives. What comes next is moving away from using social media as a constant output stream amd toward using social-media tools as venues for two-way conversation.

The biggest challenge for theatrical organizations is still (and will probably always be) money. Despite the never-ending fight for funding, the general feeling remains positive, but not as positive as in previous years. The percentage of companies that feel “very positive” about their future dropped from 38 to 28 between 2008 and 2010.

But the faces at TAPA’s meeting in council chambers on Tuesday morning were not sour or defeated. They were more like game faces, ready for a day of non-stop meetings and arguments to make sure city councillors are keeping watch over the problems facing the performing arts industry, and that they’re aware of the potential benefits of doing so.

“We have to know where we’re going. We have to work in a collaborative way,” said Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre) to a crowd that included theatre board members, artists, and fellow councillors. “We’re listening.”

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