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Culture as city-builder

November 28th, 2005

Photo: Transformation AGO construction web cam

There’s an extraordinary act of city-building going on in Toronto and it’s happening on the once fragile shoulders of culture. In the multitude of cultural expansion projects now underway in this city, one fact is self-evident: the arts are building a city driven by creativity.

If we do it right, and we will, our new galleries and museums, concert halls and classrooms will be the basis for compelling programs that unite cultures and encourage dialogue through the catalyst of creativity. Whether at the Art Gallery of Ontario or the Canadian Opera Company, at the Royal Ontario Museum or the Royal Conservatory of Music, experiencing the arts helps people find pathways to their own creativity — their own ability to make their mark in the world and connect to others.

Each of the cultural expansion projects now underway is giving to Toronto a lens through which its distinctive personality and identity can be understood and expressed. It is a rare and wonderful moment of cultural critical mass and momentum that extends well beyond bricks and mortar


For example, the City of Toronto’s visionary Culture Plan targets unprecedented growth of the arts. Toronto’s 18-month-long celebration of the arts, Live with Culture is already engaging government, community, arts and business organizations across the city. Others are joining them in collaboration to launch the Toronto International Arts Festival next year.

Why? Because the arts have a starring role in the value proposition of our cities. Visitors to Toronto spend more than $4 billion annually, according to Tourism Toronto. The statistics show they’re likely to be at a play or concert, at an art gallery or museum. Build it and they will come.

Culture creates more than 600,000 jobs for Canadians and generates more than $39 billion in annual revenues, according to the Canadian Art Coalition. Over the last decade, Ontario witnessed an 18 percent increase in cultural sector jobs. Build it and they will work.

Toronto’s cultural engine alone generates more than $8 billion annually and accounts for half of Ontario’s cultural revenues. Build it and they will spend.

More than 6,000 children and adults take organized art classes at the AGO. By 2008 when our own transformation is complete, we will double the number of school children we serve in all of our educational programs. The role of the arts in improved learning is well documented. Integrating creativity into the school curriculum yields reduced absenteeism and dramatic improvements in problem solving, communications skills and academic performance. Build it and they will learn.

Individually, Toronto’s cultural expansion projects are as bold as they are inspiring. They will draw hundreds of thousands of people from around the world and around the corner. They will engage, astound and challenge.

But together, they send a clear and reverberating message to cities large and small that culture can drive the economic and social growth of our communities. Toronto’s experience proves that culture can galvanize a community, inspire philanthropy and generate a new civic vocabulary around creativity and imagination.

Well before their grand re-openings, Toronto’s cultural expansion projects have already become milestones that mark an unprecedented passage — from our good city to a great city, a city that the arts built.

This commentary was written by Matthew Teitelbaum, portions of which were presented at the Ramsay Talks lecture series, organized by media consultant Bob Ramsay. This month focused on cultural expansion projects in Toronto.

  • http://singer.to eli

    This cam’s going to get really exciting! Anyone know when we can expect to start seeing demolition / construction?

    ES

  • http://singer.to eli

    This cam’s going to get really exciting! Anyone know when we can expect to start seeing demolition / construction?

    ES

  • Art Matters

    The Sculpture Atrium at the south end of the building has been demolished. You can just see it at the bottom-left of the web cam view. A second web camera facing the north side of the project is about to go live where a lot of demolition work is already underway.

  • Art Matters

    The Sculpture Atrium at the south end of the building has been demolished. You can just see it at the bottom-left of the web cam view. A second web camera facing the north side of the project is about to go live where a lot of demolition work is already underway.

  • Alexander Arvelo McQuaig

    I beg your pardon, but I don’t think it’s good to reduce art to a commodity as this article seems to do. Art is beneficial to society on its own, not as a vehicle for “economic growth” or whatever. In fact, I think that Art is worth making/preserving/displaying even if it leads to economic loss.

  • Alexander Arvelo McQuaig

    I beg your pardon, but I don’t think it’s good to reduce art to a commodity as this article seems to do. Art is beneficial to society on its own, not as a vehicle for “economic growth” or whatever. In fact, I think that Art is worth making/preserving/displaying even if it leads to economic loss.

  • Victoria Hadden

    It seems to me that the point of Matthew Teiltelbaums’s commentary is that the city, province and feds seems to be discovering simultaneously that art makes good business sense as well as connecting ourselves to one another in dialogue and contemplation. I think you are correct that art has its own merit, but that doesn

  • Victoria Hadden

    It seems to me that the point of Matthew Teiltelbaums’s commentary is that the city, province and feds seems to be discovering simultaneously that art makes good business sense as well as connecting ourselves to one another in dialogue and contemplation. I think you are correct that art has its own merit, but that doesn