Mayoral candidates are vying to outdo each other on pledges of arts funding even as they promise deep cuts in city spending.
Minutes after George Smitherman announced his plan to help Toronto's culture scene "get its verve back" with former rival Sarah Thomson standing behind him in the lobby of Roy Thomson hall, Rocco Rossi's campaign issued a release announcing much the same thing.
The increase in per-capita arts and culture funding from $18 a person to $25 promised by both candidates is something the city has been trying to accomplish since Mel Lastman was in office, says Toronto Arts Council executive director Claire Hopkinson. At its August meeting, council passed a motion to do just that-this time by 2013. Mayoral candidate Rob Ford was one of the 40 councillors who voted in favour of the increase.
Joe Pantalone's arts and culture capital plan would do the same thing-he'd also develop a "Cultural Access Pass" for the city's newcomers, paid for "through partnerships with the cultural organizations and the private sector."
Both Mr. Pantalone and Mr. Smitherman have vowed to woo back the film industry, which had been deterred from the self-declared Hollywood North by a stronger loonie.
Mr. Smitherman said Wednesday he'd have the city's film office report directly to the mayor in the hopes of eliminating any bureaucratic barriers to doing film work in Toronto.
"I want to put a jump back in our step in relation to film and television production. ... That sector feels many regulatory burdens that sometimes the mayor's office could be effective at helping to overcome."
Mr. Smitherman also vowed that the city's arts programs wouldn't face the knife despite his pledge of cuts to spending and reductions staff in his fiscal plan Monday. Both Mr. Smitherman and Rob Ford have said their plans for attrition of city staff would focus on administrative or bureaucratic staff, although neither has said specifically what positions might be cut; Mr. Smitherman said the city's policy and communications departments might be areas of potential attrition.
"Arts and culture, especially in connection with the tourism sector, is one I believe is an area of growth for jobs overall. But the city government needs to be leaner and more efficient and there are prospects here and there for attrition. The number of people working in this [arts]area is relatively modest."
It's encouraging to see that arts is on candidates' radar, Ms. Hopkinson said Wednesday-especially given the push in this election to cut back.
"Funding towards arts is an investment, and that it leads to growth and economic development is a critical issue," she said. "It's comforting for us to know that has been recognized and understood and championed."
The candidates will debate arts and culture in the city Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. Follow The Globe's James Bradshaw as he live-tweets from the debate.