The A.G.O. is laying off staff, Casa Loma is falling apart at the seams, and Toronto's culture division has a "state of good repair" backlog of $35.7 million for such things as non-profit theatre. The recent good news was that city councillors approved a 10-year culture plan to promote Toronto's malnourished arts.
The plan, commissioned in 2000, proposes 60 ways to fulfill the city's artistic potential, including dressing up University Avenue and branding it an "Avenue of the Arts" to lure tourists.
Now the bad news: the plan itself is a little short on specifics. And without money to buttress council's political support, the "cultural renaissance" the plan promises may be stillborn.
Councillors agreed the arts need help, but concerns about financing have nearly derailed the scheme. After three votes, it was finally approved.
"Some councillors hold the culture plan as a frill," says councillor Olivia Chow, "not a core business need."
Chow and a majority of other councillors thought it best to throw their political weight behind the plan - even if funds weren't readily available - because abandoning it would only guarantee Toronto's artistic and cultural decline.
But others, like councillor David Shiner, say those supporting the plan were voting with blinkers on.
"The culture plan is a wonderful idea," he says, "but I don't think much of the plan will get implemented, because how can we develop new arts projects if we can't even fund the ones we've got now?"
Indeed. An even more fundamental question is, how do smaller cities like Montreal and Vancouver do a superior job of funding the arts?
One answer is that both those cities raise money for cultural tourism promotion through a hotel tax levy. In Montreal hotel visitors pay $2 a day and in Vancouver 2 per cent of their room bill. According to official city documents, a 3 per cent visitor levy in Toronto would yield about $24 million a year.
Frustrated culture division director Rita Davies accuses Ontario's Minister of Tourism and Recreation, Brian Coburn, of stalling on a proposed arts levy in Toronto.
Coburn's spokesperson says the government wants to be seen reducing taxes, not adding new ones.
"I think an arts levy would discourage travel, because post-SARS visitors aren't looking for the five-star experience - they want and expect a good bargain."
Lisa Walter, OPSEU president for local 535 representing A.G.O. workers, says both city officials and the province seem more interested in marketing culture than in nurturing it. "It's a business exercise, not a cultural exercise," she says.
So far, Ernie Eves has earmarked just $7.5 million a year for two years to support artists across Ontario. "None of that will go specifically to Toronto's culture plan, but many artists in Toronto will benefit from it," says John Brotman, executive director of the Ontario Arts Council.
Last November, Toronto recommended that Queen's Park grant the city use of 1 per cent of civic capital budgets for public art installations, but this is still not in place.
Translation: if you're an artist in this city, you will probably get more money by returning your empties to the beer store than you will from the suits.