The leaders of Toronto’s largest cultural institutions have a vision of a new mayor – and their dream candidate doesn’t look much like Rob Ford.
The heads of eight big performing-arts companies and museums in the city have banded together to issue a manifesto calling for a visionary leader who will help build a creative economy and livable neighbourhoods, and who will champion investments in transit, social services and the cultural sector.
In their statement, shared with The Globe and Mail before its publication on their various websites, they call for a mayor who “embodies the values of respect, sensitivity and inclusion,” and who can offer a clearly articulated vision for the city, an ability to build consensus inside and outside city council and “a deep passion and love” for Toronto.
That sounds like an endorsement of anyone but Ford; however, the leaders say they are not taking sides, and stress they cannot, as leaders of non-profit institutions, endorse any individual candidate.
“People have encouraged us to make statements about individuals and make statements about the current mayor and I am not interested in doing that,” said Janet Carding, director of the Royal Ontario Museum. “It is about the city and going forward, it’s about what has been achieved and what can be achieved. It is not about personalities or about the individuals.”
Although the statement might be read as an oblique critique of Ford’s leadership, the group says it wants to encourage concrete discussion of civic issues prior to next fall’s election and beyond, not to rehash the riotous term of the scandal-plagued mayor who was set to return to his re-election campaign Monday after two months in rehab.
“It is meant to inspire all the many highly qualified candidates who are running,” said Roberta Smith, interim CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
The group of leaders also includes Toronto International Film Festival director Piers Handling, Canadian Opera Company general director Alexander Neef, Art Gallery of Ontario director Matthew Teitelbaum, Soulpepper artistic director Albert Schultz, National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain and executive director Barry Hughson, and Harbourfront Centre CEO William Boyle.
The group meets regularly to discuss mutual issues, such as reaching diverse audiences or working with city hall, and sees Toronto as a city poised to become a civic superstar – if it makes the right decisions.
On that score, the statement goes far beyond the parameters of culture, touching on transit, neighbourhood planning and social services, but the leaders are unconcerned they might be seen to be overstepping their arts briefs. “We are an important part of the city and an increasingly important sector. We aren’t meddling; we are showing we are concerned citizens,” TIFF’s Handling said. “We love the city and feel a sense of responsibility.”
The group explains that the issues they raise directly affect their organizations: “It’s not ivory tower,” said Neef of the COC. “Transport is only the most obvious: If people can’t get here, how can we have an impact?”
The state of transit is a major headache for the group; the performing-arts institutions regularly have to hold the curtain because their audiences are running late due to traffic congestion or public-transit delays. A bit more abstractly, the group cares deeply about Toronto’s ability to integrate new immigrants into civic life because the arts organizations are working on the parallel challenge of reaching more diverse audiences. Funding for the arts, meanwhile, is an issue of accessibility and social equity – larger puàblic grants mean lower ticket prices and less elite audiences.
“People feel the city is on the verge of breaking out, becoming an important destination, but certain things are holding us back,” Handling said, adding that when he travels to capitals such as London or Paris on TIFF business he is always struck by how easily he can get around without ever using a private car. “None of us claim to be experts on these issues, but for a new mayor they should be paramount.”