Following Up On The City Parks Plan

Dusk Dances

On March 11, 2010 we shared some updates about the ongoing development process for the new City Parks Plan, and we are happy to report that the Parks and Environment Committee were very receptive to the Toronto Arts Council’s suggestions.

Amongst the five directives to be put forth as a result of the panel, three address issues that address arts concerns and, if put forth by the City, promise to make positive changes to eliminate barriers artists currently face in accessing parks as venues.

These directives from Parks and Environment Committee advise the following actions:

  • Propose pro-active partnerships with organizations such as the Toronto Arts Council
  • Review permit process with a view to identifying barriers… in particular to developing a single portal for arts programming
  • Profile and advance the telling of community stories through social media and the City’s web site

The full document Committee Decisions is available here.

To stay informed, request a free subscribe to the Toronto Arts Insider E-Newsletter from mail@torontoarts.org.

For details on the full presentation, please read on.

Parks Panel Open to Suggestions from Arts Community

The city is initiating the development of a city-wide, multi-year Parks Plan to guide decision-making in the acquisition, development, management and operation of the system of public parkland across the City. The Parks and Environment Committee hosted a panel discussion to discuss ideas and opportunities for a strong sustainable and longer term vision for our parks, which took place on Wednesday, March 10th at City Hall. Committee Chair, Councillor Paula Fletcher, extended an invitation to Claire Hopkinson, Toronto Arts Council’s Executive Director, to make a presentation on behalf of the arts.

Panelists included Jane Farrow, Executive Director, Centre for City Ecology and Jane’s Walk; Luigi Ferrara, Director, School of Design and the Institute without Boundaries, George Brown College; Adele Freeman, Director, Watershed Management, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Uzma Shakir, Atkinson Economic Justice Fellow, Atkinson Charitable Foundation.  

Below are highlights from Claire’s presentation:

Torontonians love their parks. Our parks and green spaces are a critical feature of what makes Toronto a highly liveable city.  Torontonians also love public art, festivals and performances in the parks.

Each year the Toronto Arts Council invests in many cultural projects which take place in city parks. Some examples include Dusk Dances, classical opera and ballet and contemporary music in the Music Garden; Afro Fest at Queens Park; spectacles put on by Clay and Paper Theatre and Shadowland, across Toronto including Dufferin Grove Park and Toronto Island; community arts events such as the fabulous presentations at MacGregor Park Art Club involving local high school youth; and theatre such as the Dream in High Park, produced by Canadian Stage Company.

The work of artists and arts organizations serve many of the same goals that are shared by councillors, parks planners and city builders:

  • community development, beautification, education and training
  • building healthier communities through the arts,
  • bringing seniors out of isolation,
  • engaging youth in meaningful programs that ignite their creativity,
  • promoting interaction between neighbours,
  • promoting respect for place and for the environment
  • using parks to tell our stories and share a sense of history

One of the great things about art in Toronto’s parks is that most of the barriers to participation in arts events are eliminated:

  • Performances and exhibitions in parks are almost always free or pwyc
  • Seating capacity is large
  • Commitment to the event is minimal
  • All ages are welcome
  • Often language is not a barrier

However, while there are very few barriers to public participation in arts in Toronto’s parks – the same cannot be said for artists wanting to create presentations in the parks

The challenges are:

  • Obtaining permits – feedback indicates that this is a source of huge frustration for artists.
  • Artists, unlike other community and sports groups – are individual applicants for park uses – they don’t “block book” and they are rarely in a position to develop long term relationships with a given park manager
  • Policing costs are very expensive
  • Providing equipment for amplification and lighting can be prohibitively expensive for small arts organizations
  • Lack of promotion

Arts organizations have ongoing partnerships with many city departments, such as Toronto Community Housing.  There is the opportunity to create similar partnerships with the Parks Department. There are numerous ways to maximize service delivery to the public through community partnerships.  At Toronto Arts Council, particularly through the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Creative City: Block by Block program, we are seeking to connect every Toronto neighbourhood with the transformational power of artistic activity. With the launch of our new Neighbourhood Arts Network, we are poised to connect the dots between artists, the spaces they perform in, the communities which want them, and the benefits they leave behind.

How can we improve the situation for artists? This is what we hope to do:

  • Pursue the possibility of ‘one-stop shopping’ for permits and information for arts groups working in parks
  • Explore the possibility of block-booking parks for arts groups
  • Explore the possibility of securing lighting and sound amplification equipment for use by artists in parks
  • Work together –Parks Board with artists – on the promotion of arts activities in parks
  • Maintain an ongoing conversation between artists and the City

Toronto Arts Council and its Neighbourhood Arts Network would be very pleased to remain involved with Parks, to facilitate workshops, to work with parks staff, to provide important information to artists and to serve as a liaison.  We look forward to our ongoing involvement.

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