On Co-existence and Collaboration: Arts and Economy in Ontario7 minute read

It is no secret that the cultural industries sector greatly contributes to the vibrancy and economy of our communities.

In Ontario the direct contribution of culture industries to GDP was $27.7 billion in Ontario in 2014, which represents 4.1% of provincial GDP; a figure which is ten times larger than the sports estimate.

Evidence demonstrates that we are a solid sector that is not only contributing to the economy but that is ahead of many of industries; and, our communities believe that our work makes a difference. But regardless of stats and surveys, each community must always prioritise the needs and wants of their constituents such as sports, commercial industry, or health and social services to name a few. Arts and culture are often competing with community priorities or values and, regardless of these statistics outlining the impact of cultural industries being touted on the front of every report, it does not always compute.

The impact of the arts and culture sector does not always resonate; furthermore, resources are scarce and we have little wiggle room for error and lots of room for scrutiny. Thus, we must be more certain, more cautious and more resolute in what we want as a community.

Arts and Capital

This remains true when organizations and artists are looking for space or looking to create space in their communities. We have few resources to turn to and we must in turn be resourceful so that we can create and support the spaces needed for artists to thrive in Ontario.

Our leaders must focus on their ability to sustain their spaces – keeping them at a state of good repair, and the ability to create new spaces when needed – meeting the needs of their organization and community.

The Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, Kingston, Ontario

When it comes to realizing capital projects, we only have one Provincial level fund – through the Ontario Trillium Foundation – and that provides $150,000 per project, per year. Unfortunately, this fund is not enough to support or match the dollars that are available at the federal level – with their new budget of potentially $60 million per year (this is speculation as their new investment dollars have yet to be operationalized so we cannot confirm their yearly budget).

The increased investment is great news but without the provincial resources needed to match the fund, we are potentially leaving money on the table and so some projects might remain unfunded.

In addition to the notion of leaving “money on the table,” without having a significant provincial fund we are perpetuating an ecosystem that supports more connected and networked organizations (typically larger organizations) that will be able to navigate the province to find funds for capital that are not available as a grant. It could result in smaller, less resourced organizations not being able to access the necessary funds to see a project to fruition.

For many that have completed a capital project in the past, this is not necessarily news but it is important for those considering a significant project: that while the announcement of new money federally sounds like an answer to many, we need to solve the void matching funds from other sources.

Municipal and Community Support

In spite of the lack of obvious matching dollars provincially, our sector continues to adapt and creative spaces continue to be built, renovated and repurposed. I attribute this to the resilient innovators in our sector that can both navigate the system and gain the buy-in necessary to see such amazing results.

With the lack of provincial money on the table and tight resources, the big question for us is always how are these projects happening? Who is filling in the gap? How is this getting done? The answer is not hard and fast, but most frequently the answer is; the truth is, these projects are happening because of municipal and community support.

Municipal support, whether it be in lieu of or in addition to provincial support, is really key to community led projects. It is our municipalities that can often bridge the gap between what is available federally in order to make these spaces happen in community’s province-wide. I am not saying that municipalities have the funds to bridge gaps (or that it is easy or that they are willing to do so) but they are often key to leveraging available funds. In addition to cash, ensuring that the municipality supports and endorses the project can be just as detrimental to its success.

This often is a complicated and long, drawn out process but is paramount to the success of the project. This buy-in is necessary before talk of money is even possible.

The community group or organization has to define their needs and wants so that it might gain municipal support and be able to tie it to the priorities of the community. Being able to connect back to a culture plan, economic development plan or master plan is a way to draw a thread between an organizations’ needs and the needs of the community. Unfortunately, though, motivations for supporting a project are not as black and white. While an idea may come from the community (and even be acknowledged in an approved plan), the ability for it to succeed or secure the resources available may often depend on:

  1. Political will, i.e. the priorities and leanings of council
  2. The values of the community
  3. What else might it be competing against, i.e. is the community in the middle of building a new hospital, rec centre, arena??

Without the municipal investment and buy-in from their community, many projects would not succeed.

In addition to municipal support (which is not new but is now necessary), I think it will be increasingly common to see new builds that are serving more than one purpose, one discipline or one sector as well as partnering. We no longer have the option to think about what we, as individual artists, groups and associations, need; instead, it is our responsibility to think about what does our arts and culture community need?

Co-existence and Adaptation

Trinity-St. Paul's
Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts, Toronto, Ontario

I believe there is any abundance of innovators in our communities asking important questions about community need who also challenging themselves in understanding “how can we foster and develop the cultural and artistic activities that define the communities in which we live – through space?”

We are seeing more spaces being “adapted” and executing a shared model, that operate more like a hub. The cultural hub/shared space model is not new but it continues to grow as it is a model that, for a resource tight sector, it makes sense:

  1. Share the resources you have and make the most of the space that you can afford.
  2. Collaborate on projects: We have also seen a push from funders to be collaborative, share and partner – which is resulting in collaborative projects both within and across sectors.
  3. Collaborate with each other: We encourage our communities to work in partnership with each other to see what can be shared – to maximize resources. We encourage our communities to look at the needs of the various sectors and think what can we do together? We also encourage our organizations that have completed successful projects to be leaders and to share their learnings widely, so that other organizations can be successful. There really is no better way to learn than from your experienced peers.

Works Cited

“Capital Grants.” Ontario Trillium, Ontario Trillium Foundation, 2017, www.otf.ca/what-we-fund/investment-streams/capital-grants. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Income and Expenditure Accounts Technical Series Provincial and Territorial Culture Indicators, 2010 to 2014 Income and Expenditure Accounts Technical Series Provincial and Territorial Culture Indicators, 2010 to 2014.” Statistics Canada, Government of Canada, 11 May 2016, www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/13-604-m/13-604-m2016081-eng.htm. Accessed 21 July 2017.