By Leah Hansen and Adriana Parente
Five Toronto mayoral candidates took on the issue of arts funding on Monday at a debate co-ordinated by ArtsVote Toronto, an organization co-chaired by a Ryerson grad.
The issue is one that could potentially affect many students and recent grads planning to go into creative professions. Ryerson alumna Meagan Davis has been championing the arts cause for almost a year with ArtsVote, an organization founded to engage voters and raise awareness about the importance of supporting the arts.
ArtsVote’s campaign activities encourage politicians to be supportive of the arts industry and raise awareness among ordinary Torontonians, who are ultimately the voters. Davis got involved with the group last fall.
“Toronto is not a leader in arts funding even though our city is home to more artists than any other city in Canada,” Davis said.
According to the Toronto Arts Foundation, Montreal was spending around $55 per capita on arts, culture and heritage funding in 2009. Five years later, Toronto, home to 93 per cent more artists than any other Canadian city, is spending less than half of that $22.38 per capita to be exact.
Encouraging politicians to continue to invest in the arts and ensuring accountability for arts funding at city hall is another one of the group’s initiatives. The mayoral debate organized by Arts Vote that took place at TIFF Bell Lightbox centred on the question of support for cultural initiatives in the city.
Candidates John Tory, Ari Goldkind, Olivia Chow, Morgan Baskin and Doug Ford all attended to outline their plans for funding and supporting the arts in Toronto, a hot-button issue for many of Toronto’s 174,000 artists.
As the debate got under way, all five candidates reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the arts.
“The arts have always been part of my life,” said Chow, who worked as an artist after graduating from college. “We know that arts give us a sense of identity [and] help us celebrate who we are.”
Tory, Goldkind and Ford stressed the importance of the economic impact of Toronto’s arts sector. According to the Toronto Arts Foundation, the sector contributes $11.3 billion to the city’s annual GDP.
Baskin, a 19-year-old recent high school graduate, spoke up about the importance of the arts and culture industry to Toronto’s youth.
“Arts and culture jobs are often held by those who find other industries to be not welcoming, youth included,” she said. “There’s an incredible amount of possibility in this sector, especially in terms of finding youth not jobs, but careers that we feel good about.”
While ArtsVote is active now only during election times, Davis said that she would like to see more continuous operations in the future.
“I’d like to see ArtsVote have a year-round presence to help educate the arts community about the ongoing issues for our sector including funding and policy decisions,” Davis said.
In addition to organizing debates and campaigning for arts industry awareness, ArtsVote also publishes a report card on each candidate’s stance on the arts. The grades will be assigned and posted to the ArtsVote website by Friday, Oct. 3.