It’s time for Toronto’s consumers of culture to forget the old names and learn some new ones again.
Civic Theatres Toronto, the organization founded in 2015 with the merger of three city-owned arts facilities, held a news conference on Monday morning at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts to reveal the result of the naming competition it held for itself last spring.
TO Live is what we now must call the organization that runs the Sony Centre and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in downtown Toronto, as well as the Toronto Centre for the Arts up at Yonge and Sheppard.
But that’s not all: As part of a $30.75-million, 15-year “strategic partnership” with Meridian, Ontario’s largest credit union, two of those theatres will soon be rebranded as well.
On Sept. 15, the Sony Centre – previously known as O’Keefe Centre (1960-1996) and the Hummingbird Centre (1996-2007) – will become Meridian Hall.
On the same day, the Toronto Centre for the Arts – formerly the North York Performing Arts Centre (1993-1994) and the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts (1994–1998) – will become the Meridian Arts Centre.
The St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, the most crucial and truly “civic” of the three, will mercifully get to keep the name it has had since it opened as a Centennial project in 1970.
But it’s hard to understand how anyone at the city let two venues at opposite ends of the Yonge subway line have such similar names. Especially in an age where folks tend to get places by plugging the first few letters of their destination into their phones.
I can hear the confused cell conversations already: “No, honey, I said Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire™ In Concert was playing at Meridian HALL, not the Meridian ARTS CENTRE … Get the kids in an Uber quickly!”
It’s difficult, too, to get excited about the new name for Civic Theatres Toronto (2015-2019; farewell, we hardly knew ya). The old moniker may, as Mayor John Tory said at Monday’s news conference, “sound like something only a politician or bureaucrat could come up with,” but it had the benefit of being clear and meaning something. It also emphasized that these three cultural assets are “civic” i.e., “of or relating to a citizen, a city, citizenship or civil affairs.”
TO Live, on the other hand, conjures up memories of Toronto’s confusing 2005 culture-boosting city ad campaign “TO live with culture” that no one could ever figure out how to say aloud. It comes accompanied by a new $75,000 logo from Toronto’s BLOK Design in which a strangely askew T seems about to pierce a skinny, zero-like O, while a small all-caps “LIVE” cowers below. As a pal on Twitter put it, it looks like one of those “I am not a robot” security verifications with wobbly-looking letters.
Meridian, at least, is getting good value for its $30.75-million partnership with TO Live – which goes beyond naming rights. At the news conference, Bill Maurin, president and chief executive of the credit union, noted, for instance, a “new branch concept” destined for the future Meridian Hall, which is located at the prime corner of Front and Yonge Streets.
Wade Stayzer, chief member experience officer at Meridian, said that “concept” was still being fleshed out, but he envisioned things such as seminars on investing or for first-time home buyers on site at the former Sony Centre. “I’m not going to specifically say it’s a bank branch, but we will have people here that will provide advice and education,” he said. “You could come in and transact if you wanted to, but again we look at it more as how do we help to build financial literacy within the community as well.” (Yes, there will “likely” be ATMs, though there already is an independent one in the lobby.)
What about Torontonians, who currently support TO Live to the tune of $5.3-million a year? Having lost the ability to name these civic theatres after people, places or things we care about, what do we get out of this partnership – beyond being able to get mortgage advice and a performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in one spot?
The new cash from Meridian will not reduce the three venues’ reliance on that public subsidy, according to TO Live president and CEO Clyde Wagner. Instead it will flow to infrastructure and programming.
Wagner, who has a real passion for these often derided (oversized; underused) venues, views the soon-to-be Meridian Hall as Canada’s Radio City Music Hall; the money from the new partnership will help “keep it in the level and quality that it should be."
Radio City Music Hall is an interesting comparison – a venue that’s had its troubles, but means a lot to a lot of people, even those who have never been to New York. I wonder if Torontonians would feel more attached to the O’Keefe/Hummingbird/Sony/Meridian if, like Radio City, if had always had the same name, one that had grown in resonance over the years?
The long-standing issues facing the Sony Centre and the Toronto Centre for the Arts are not all about their lack of a clear identity since the ballet and opera moved from the former and Livent disappeared from the latter. But the revolving door of names certainly hasn’t helped them forge new ones – and now we’ve got new new names to learn and double-check before we plug them into the GPS.