As part of this year's Canadian Music Week (April 18 to 23), a trio of panel discussions will focus on Toronto as "music city," and the issues involved in creating and maintaining a healthy music environment. The Globe and Mail spoke with Mike Tanner, the city's music sector development officer, about the state of affairs when it comes to Toronto's music scene.
As the music sector development officer at City Hall, you work in the background. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch on what you do?
A team was set up in 2014, with the goal to help and support and grow the music community, all the way from helping to create opportunities for artists to looking out for the interests of venues and festivals. There are a lot of components in the ecosystem. What we do is help represent the voice and interests of the music community in policy discussions with other city divisions. Prior to the formation of this team, that voice was missing.
The big issue now is the recent spate of music venues closing down. Is it overblown?
It's understandable. There a lot of memories tied up in these places. We're definitely aware of the instances, from Soybomb HQ to the Hard Rock Café to the Silver Dollar.
But these are places shutting down because of market forces. Is there anything you guys could do, even if you wanted to?
This is the same story that repeats itself in every growing city across North America. Rising land values cause rising property taxes, and venues often feel the crunch. And you're right. The city currently doesn't have a mechanism to get between somebody who owns the building and who they're going to sell to or lease to. But what we can focus on is looking at helping the venues in a different way. For example, examining with our colleagues in City Planning the current zoning framework to see if there's flexibility that would allow music venues to develop in areas of the city they're currently not permitted, because of zoning bylaws.
I see getting the Matador reopened as something you guys should be working on.
I believe we are helping with that. There's a lot of positive movement forward there. There will always be competing interests and different point of views. It's rare to find a music venue stuck in the middle of the field, where its operation won't affect anybody else.
The people who run the WayHome festival up in Oro-Medonte, in an open field, would agree with that. Lots of conflicts between the local residents and the promoters up there.
I know. Sure enough, there are conflicting opinions and balances to be struck. It's about having the right kinds of conversations.
Canadian Music Week is holding conversations, including a panel discussion titled "Clubbed to Death: What's Killing Our Historic Venues." I don't get that though. Historic venues like Massey Hall, the Great Hall, the Masonic Temple are being preserved. The El Mocambo is supposed to be reopening. The Horseshoe is doing fine. Is all this talk alarmism?
Well, it's an emotional issue. We don't want our downtown to be devoid of culture. But we're blessed here. Toronto is very much a music city. But I think people are concerned that it might be slipping away. They want to act before it's too late.
I don't know. I mean, we can't have nostalgia, if nothing disappears, right?
Right [laughs]. But I, too, was concerned with the title of the panel discussion. I'm hoping it's not about the old Friar's Tavern or the Colonial Tavern. We need to concern ourselves with venues that exist now and venues that are going to provide places for our artists to play and our audiences to see live music in the future. We've got work to do now.
Mike Tanner participates in Clubbed to Death: What's Killing Our Historic Venues, on April 19, 1:40 p.m. Sheraton Centre Hotel, 123 Queen St. W., http://cmw.net/panel-details/?panel_id=1043&cat=3.