Ask any grammarian: A little apostrophe can make a huge difference. After Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was a no-show in his first year in office, the annual Toronto Mayor’s Arts Lunch had become notable not so much as a celebration of the winners of the Toronto Arts Awards but as a speculation on the chief magistrate’s whereabouts. Now that Ford is safely tucked away in a Muskoka rehab, the lunch has reinvented itself as the Mayors’ Arts Lunch – note the plural possessive – and Thursday’s event saw a gaggle of former and would-be mayors gather in the Arcadian Court on top of the Simpson Tower on Bay Street.
At the event, which drew together past mayors to mark the 40th anniversary of the Toronto Arts Council, David Crombie (1972-1978) got the biggest round of applause. Meanwhile, campaigning mayoral candidate Olivia Chow was jokingly told to sit down and stop networking by CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi, who was acting as master of ceremonies. Former mayor Barbara Hall (1994-1997) and former Etobicoke mayor (and recently defeated MPP) Doug Holyday were also there as were Chow’s chief rivals in next fall’s municipal election: David Soknacki, Karen Stintz and John Tory, as well as outside candidate Richard Underhill, a Juno-award winning sax player.
No less than 16 city councillors attended to applaud the winners, a sign that despite ugly drug scandals and stalled transit plans, the city is making progress on some files: Municipal funding for the arts is on the rise. Councillor Gary Crawford, who read a city proclamation at the event, boasted of Toronto’s new goal to be spending $25 per capita on the arts by 2017. (Currently, the city spends about $19; a 2012 study found it lagged well behind Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary in the amount spent.) At the lunch, the Toronto Arts Foundation handed out $46,000 worth of prizes. CUE, a group established to support underground artists, won the $15,000 arts for youth award. Multidisciplinary performance artist Jordan Tannahill won the $10,000 emerging artist award. Rap artist Michie Mee, who combines reggae and dancehall with hip hop, won the $10,000 Roy Thomson Hall award. Philip Akin, artistic director of Obsidian Theatre, won the $5,000 William Kilbourn award for contributing to Toronto’s cultural life. Real estate developers Metropia and Context won the arts and business award for their work as Heights Development Inc., a partnership to revitalize Lawrence Heights.
The event also recognized a laundry list of arts anniversaries including the Royal Ontario Museum’s 100th and two newly named arts executives: Mark Hammond has been named interim CEO of the scandal-plagued Sony Centre while Gideon Arthurs, managing director of the Tarragon Theatre is heading to Montreal to lead the National Theatre School.