Cheol Joon Baek
Surprise. Michael Thompson’s economic agenda includes the arts.
It went largely unnoticed in the histrionics around the garbage privatization debate, but council passed a new cultural plan last week.
This remarkable occurrence registered barely a "meh" on the news Richter scale. Who could conceive of a plan to nurture human capital in Rob Ford's throw-the-trash-out-with-the-trash Toronto?
Ironic, given his efforts around graffiti eradication and threats to cut funding to Pride. In terms of boosting funding for cultural pursuits, the Ford administration has been eager to cut and run.
The axing of funding for the Fort York bridge so that it won't be built in time for bicentennial celebrations for the War of 1812 is but one example.
But by most accounts, Creative Capital Gains: An Action Plan For Toronto has been well received, including by the arts community. Karen Kain was among those consulted. As were prosperity guru Richard Florida and Jeff Melanson, director of the National Ballet School, who's soon to depart for a new gig running the Banff Centre.
Some 13 public consultations were held, involving more than 500 people from the arts community. Thirty-three recommendations were drafted, aimed at "ensuring a supply of affordable, sustainable cultural space" and "supporting the development of creative clusters."
The biggie among these: raising the target to $25 per capita for arts and culture funding (from the current $18). The mayor committed to as much during the election campaign. But it was the previous council under David Miller that actually drafted a culture plan for the city back in 2003 and called for the city to commit to the $25 per capita funding, a move reaffirmed by council back in August 2010.
It's a modest proposal, really, given the fact that the amount we currently spend on the arts is lower than Chicago ($26) and Montreal ($32) and far behind cities we like to compare ourselves to, namely New York ($74) and San Francisco ($87).
Nothing's carved in stone on the money front, mind you. Finding an extra $15 or $20 million in the current budget will be tough for a regime whose politics have been less than artfully expressed.
But Beautiful City, the people who brought us the billboard tax for funding for the arts, were enthusiastic enough about council's adoption of the culture plan to send a screen grab of the unanimous vote in an email to supporters. So maybe there's reason for optimism.
That Michael Thompson, chair of the Economic Development Committee, is spearheading the call to boost arts funding may have something to do with that sense of hopefulness.
Next to Ford, he's probably the most powerful person around the council horseshoe. Besides chairing Economic Development and sitting on Ford's executive, Thompson occupies seats on Build Toronto and Invest Toronto and serves as vice-chair of the Police Services Board.
Ford is keeping the councillor from Scarborough Centre very busy. That's partly because Thompson's capable and partly to keep him from entertaining any big ideas.
He's the guy, after all, whom right-wingers were talking about as a possible mayoral candidate before there was a Ford Nation.