Parsing the Mayoral Platforms: Arts and Culture
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Parsing the Mayoral Platforms: Arts and Culture

Not sure who to vote for? Unclear on the candidates’ positions? In this series we’ll be examining the major mayoral contenders’ policies on the most important issues facing Toronto in 2010.
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Most people like the arts well enough as a concept, but when it comes down to deciding who’s going to crack open their wallet and pay for the new opera house or shoe museum, things can get contentious. Here’s what three of our would-be mayors want to do about keeping culture in Hogtown.


Rob Ford
Rob Ford knows where he wants to spend your tax dollars, and it’s not on arts and culture. His website is devoid of reference to the creative world, he’s made no public policy statements on the subject that we can locate, and he spent much of his time at the ArtsVote debate staring at the ceiling. During the same debate he professed affection for the arts (noting that he played the lead in a high school production of The Princess and the Pea, which presents an interesting mental image) but suggested that artists should look to the private sector for funding. In August he voted to increase Toronto’s per capita funding for the arts from $18 to $25 by 2013 (although it’s possible he thought the arts under discussion were mixed and martial), but subsequently told the Ryerson Eyeopener that he’d leave arts funding at its current level.
Either way, if you’re of a mind that government should be actively sponsoring the arts, the parsimonious politico won’t be your candidate of choice: ArtsVote has given him a D- (uninformed/unrealistic/uninterested/unlikely to support the arts) for his lacklustre support.
Joe Pantalone
Joe “Prado” Pantalone is a big fan of the arts, devoting a considerable chunk of his website to cultural commitments. Besides agreeing that all Torontonians deserve their $25 worth of art within the next five years, Pantalone wants to give new permanent residents free passes to Toronto’s major performing arts companies so they can “participate in our city’s cultural life” (this program would notionally be privately funded). He also likes the Toronto Arts Council’s Creative City: Block by Block plan and Neighbourhood Arts Network initiatives, which take a grassroots approach to culture by promoting the arts in parks, schools, and community centres.
Pantalone has been a vocal supporter of the arts for years, so you know he’s not just currying the favour of café society. The only thing the ArtsVote people didn’t dig was that he failed to knock anyone’s socks off at their debate, which is probably why he only got a B+ on their report card.
George Smitherman
The cultural cognoscenti at ArtsVote gave Smitherman the sole A of the big three for his backing of the arts. His recently announced Creative City plan includes not only the $25 a head that’s now table stakes for prospective mayors, but some bolder ideas like using development fees to create subsidized live/work spaces for artists, and encouraging film and TV work in the city by having the film office report directly to the mayor. His site says he’s budgeted for all this creative largesse, but his financial plan allocates only $3 million for increased arts funding—the increase to $25 per capita alone will cost about $17.5 million annually when fully implemented, so presumably we’re not getting there right away.
Smitherman is smart enough to sell his plan not only on the fluffier, abstract benefits of world classiness, but for the business and tax revenue it brings to the city. By attaching the progressive dream of publicly funded culture to the right-wing mantra of economic growth, he’s covering all the bases with potential voters.
The Upshot
This is pretty self-evident, but if you’re one of those paint-spattered Gitane smokers or bespectacled media mash-up geeks, Rob Ford isn’t going to be filling up your palette or subsidizing your Photoshop. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to see your hard-earned dollars spent on cops rather than culture you’ll probably enjoy a Ford regime. Both Pantalone and Smitherman are big arts supporters, but while Smitherman comes off as the more calculating of the two, he’s also a little more imaginative in his presentation. Plus he’s neck and neck with Ford, so strategic voting and all that.
Get more municipal election coverage from Torontoist here.

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