The battle to become the next mayor of Canada’s largest city heads to the the Art Gallery of Ontario tonight for a cultural showdown. The Toronto Mayoral Arts Debate kicks off at 6pm and will feature all the leading candidates.
A common thread throughout the electoral campaign is disagreement on what the city can afford as it recovers from recession — a question being asked in communities across North America. For many politicians, the arts fall near the bottom of the priority list, well below financing football stadiums and fighter jets.
The Torontoist, who will be offering a live stream of the debate, offers a solid argument for why the arts should figure into the budgetary plans of the candidates.
“What we can afford” is a choice, a value judgment about what we as a community care about, and what improves — what is, for many, essential to — our collective experience of the city. It is also patently false that arts are somehow a luxury, a frill we can afford in good times but which are expendable when the economic going gets rough. According to a report issued by Statistics Canada in 2004, there were 154,000 arts workers in the Toronto area, and a study commissioned by the City found that in 2001, the Toronto cultural sector contributed somewhere between $8 and $9 billion to our economy. Arts and culture are vitally important to Toronto’s well-being, no matter how you choose to assess it.