We need investment in arts

There’s a double crisis unfolding in Toronto. One many of us may not see, but which takes its toll on the prosperity and livability of our city. The economic downturn is hitting workers in the arts hard.

The arts enrich our city’s life, make us think, laugh and cry. But they also bring tourists to Toronto, make our city centre more lively and in a riding like Toronto-Danforth, employ a lot of people — from actors to technicians, carpenters to camera people.

Sadly, as the worst recession since the 1930s takes its toll, Toronto’s culture is losing the talents of too many arts workers. With our economy is suffering jobs, particularly in film, television and theatre dry up. Many workers are employed in catering or other service sector jobs which are also hurting. Too many are cashing in RRSPs.

We’re taught to appreciate the arts for culture but we should also think of them as an industry like any other. More than 100,000 people work in Toronto’s cultural sector, generating $7 billion in economic activity. And just like manufacturing, it’s time the provincial government took its responsibilities seriously — and got going in helping our cultural industry thrive again.

With Toronto-Danforth being home to so many workers in the arts, it’s my honour to be the NDP’s culture critic. Recently, with the support of unions representing arts workers, I introduced two ideas to help rejuvenate an industry that brings so much to our city.

The first is based on a Louisiana law to help rebuild its live performance industry after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Very simply, it calls for tax credits — already given for film and television production — to be extended to theatre, dance, music and other forms of live performance.

It’s a practical solution to help leverage investment in the arts. So we can continue to attract visitors to Toronto, with all their spin-off benefits, and provide quality performances that employ and enthrall so many Torontonians. If you work in a hotel, depend on tourism for your job or just want to see Toronto’s economy grow then this initiative is a benefit for you.

I’m also working to help our tax and employment laws better reflect arts workers’ realities. In Quebec workers in the arts are able to average their income out over a number of years in order to deal with the boom and bust nature of their sector. Similarly, they allow an exemption for royalty income to a defined limit, again in an attempt to stabilize the income of artists whose work generates so much other employment.

These measures won’t single-handedly help our arts industry return to full strength. But they will help generate investment in it, and take steps towards better income security for the people who work in it. With so many people in Toronto-Danforth affected, I look forward to pressing the McGuinty Government to make these changes law.