The Arts Community Talked, but Who Listened?
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The Arts Community Talked, but Who Listened?

Photo by swilton from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The Creative Capital Initiative’s community consultations, a chance for people in the arts to tell the City how to update its Culture Plan, began last week. The first two public meetings in North York were followed by one at Etobicoke’s Assembly Hall, and we were there to check out the scene. Such consultations will take place across Toronto—though times and locations remain difficult to pin down. The City’s communication on the matter has been muddled, to say the least.

Early this month, Eye Weekly wrote a scathing indictment of how the only public meetings yet announced were too far from where most of Toronto’s arts workers reside, namely downtown. The City responded by saying that, in fact, these were just the first two of eleven planned meetings. That number includes six invite-only consultations with arts-sector leaders, the first of which was held on February 3 (Live With Culture posted a recap).
But back to our public consultation in Etobicoke: if the attendees, who came from all across the GTA, thought they’d get a chance to present concerns and ideas directly to the Creative Capital Initiative’s panel members or advisers—or to Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), who formed the committee—they were mistaken. Thompson departed after giving a short welcome speech, leaving Nadira Pattison, manager of the City’s Arts Services division, to moderate a rotating series of feedback sessions, with the approximately 120 attendees split into five groups.
A circuitous way of gauging public opinions, perhaps, but it appeared effective; the group facilitators were busy all afternoon (and beyond the scheduled end of the event), transcribing feedback from the attendees onto flip charts. Professional artists, who were definitely in the minority, along with arts administrators, community leaders, creative marketing types, and other arts-related professionals and aficionados sounded off on such questions as: Where can the City’s investment in culture make the biggest impact? How should the City measure success of its cultural strategies? If you could make one recommendation to the mayor and council regarding culture in Toronto, what would it be?

The elephant in the room is: what will be done with all the feedback?
There were many issues that more than one speaker raised: for instance, that the City needs to improve accessibility to the arts across the city, making it easier to connect arts organizations to students or to communities where the arts infrastructure lags far behind that of the downtown core (like Etobicoke). Also, while the SuperBuild program of the past decade upgraded many of Toronto’s larger institutions, many smaller organizations and arts spaces (Factory Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre were specifically mentioned) desperately need funds to maintain and upgrade their facilities.
But the most repeated refrain was that the City should uphold all of the recommendations of the 2003 Culture Plan [PDF]. As the City’s handout for the day boasted, most of them have been implemented, but the big one—raising the City’s per capita spending on the arts to twenty-five dollars from its current eighteen dollars—has been moribund since 2007, despite an August 2010 City Council recommendation to implement the increase (which even then-councillor Rob Ford supported). While there were many suggestions for how to spend that money should it materialize (and very few were of the pie-in-the-sky variety), they were tempered by what everyone in the room agreed was the biggest challenge facing the arts in Toronto: a serious lack of funding.
The absence of anyone from the advisory council or blue-ribbon panel at the consultation had some questioning how seriously the public feedback would be studied—especially in comparison to the invite-only meetings. Praxis Theatre’s Aislinn Rose live Tweeted the entire afternoon‘s proceedings. At one point she asked, “Did anyone else think the actual task force would be here today? I did. They’re not.” If the people behind the Creative Capital Initiative want members of the public to believe their concerns are being heard and taken seriously, the attendance of panel members and advisers at the consultations would do wonders.
Though we have not received official notification, according to Xtra: “Additional public meetings will be held at City Hall’s Council Chambers on Monday March 28 and Thursday April 7, from 6–8:30 p.m. The meeting on April 7 will be focused on ‘Youth and Youth-focused Cultural Organizations.'”

CORRECTION: February 16, 2011, 3:45 PM This post originally stated that the meeting in Etobicoke was the first CCI public consulation, when, in fact, the first two were held on February 3 at the North York Civic Centre.