Rob Ford swept into power as Toronto’s mayor in 2010 on a platform of ending the city’s “gravy train”.
That scared Meaghan Davis.
She saw social services and the arts pitted against each other in a fight to prove their worth.
“There were situations where programs that gave kids breakfast money were competing against artists needing funding for grants,” says Davis, an urban planning student at Ryerson University. “And while both are important, it just isn’t fair to quantify services like that.”
It spurred her to act.
Davis, who had previously worked in administrative roles for The Volcano Theatre and The Luminato Festival, began working in arts advocacy. In 2012 she joined ArtsVote Toronto, a voter engagement initiative.
Since then she has been working to spreading the word on what’s at stake for the arts community in this year’s Oct. 27 municipal election.
That work has included an ArtsVote questionnaire sent to council and mayoral candidates, which will then be used to give each participant a report card based on their commitment to the arts.
“We want to empower the people of Toronto and give them the tools to make an informed decision,” Davis says.
One councillor poised to receive a good grade is Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest incumbent Gary Crawford.
Last year Crawford put forth a motion to boost Toronto’s funding for the arts by $17 million and raise Toronto’s arts funding to $25 per capita per year.
“Arts funding is critical,” says Crawford, himself an artist. “We need to have the security that it will increase. That is what my goal is in council. We need to make it a long-term commitment.”
Aside from cultural impact, Crawford stresses the importance of arts funding to the city’s economy. According to a study by the Toronto Arts Foundation, arts and culture contributes $11.3 billion to Toronto’s GDP every year, or $8.26 for every dollar invested.
Crawford’s move to increase arts funding is a start but more needs to be done, says Michael Rubenfeld, artistic producer of SummerWorks, Canada’s largest juried art festival.
“If the intent is to bring Toronto up to a world-class standard, then the arts are not sufficiently funded,” Rubenfeld says. “We are currently funded enough to do something, but not to make the kind of significant impact artistic ecologies can have on cities.”
Tourism generated by arts and culture events led to the creation of 67,000 new jobs in 2010, according to the Toronto Arts Foundation.
Even if Toronto does raise arts funding to $25 per capita, Rubenfeld says, the city will still fall short when compared to other major Canadian cities: Montreal funds the arts at $55 per capita per year, while Vancouver and Calgary are at $49 and $42 respectively.
Numbers like these keep Davis driven to fight for arts funding, she says. Still, she believes facts and figures can only go so far in convincing Torontonians about the value of art in their city.
“I don’t want to have a conversation with voters about funding,” Davis says. “I want to have a conversation about art, about the value that it brings to people’s lives. What the last play you saw? What mural did you walk by?
“Go out and see something, feel something, and then we can talk about the things we need to keep these things in our lives.”