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2006 07 25
A Day in the Life of a Cultural Entrepreneur
Woke up in the middle of the night. Listened to raccoons tip over the neighbour's organics bin and arrange its putrified contents into a reeking buffet. Could almost feel the delighted squirm of maggots arriving in their wriggling legions. Shuddered, shrugged, and fed the cat.

Got back to work on overdue article on Toronto literature for Spacing Magazine. Stuck on a paragraph, vacillating among arguments. Changed a word.

Checked e-mail. Responded to query from someone interested in urban literature. Deleted spam e-mails telling me I could get a better job with the right degree and a lengthy supply of Cialis. Worked on reading kit for Imagining Toronto course running for the first time in September. Reviewed writing deadlines and upcoming speaking engagements (1) and (2). Blanched at mounting cost of research materials. Contemplated formally incorporating Imagining Toronto to convert literary purchases into business expense. Scratched belly. Cleaned lint from spaces between keyboard keys. Drowsed.

Dawn. City crews resume jack-hammering sidewalks a block away. Lurch awake. Pry paperclips from eyelashes and rub QWERTY imprint from forehead.

View the newspapers on-line. Read this article on the Strategies for a Creative City report, released yesterday. Visit strikingly familiar-sounding Imagine A Toronto ... website. Download and print report. Take it outside to read, sitting in reclining chair after disposing of giant loaf of half-chewed artisanal bread that has somehow found its way onto the second floor verandah. Read.

In Introduction, observe that Poet Laureate of Toronto Pier Giorgio Di Cicco's comment on page 3 describing creative allegiance as "self-renewing" and creative industries as being released in "perpetual motion" precedes a report calling for increased public programming and funding. Contemplate cognitive dissonance. Agree with statement that "imagination is what builds our cities," thinking that good sewer systems also help. Note with surprise that my profession -- academics, pseudo-academics, and other cultural researchers -- is omitted from the Report's list of creative industries, occupations, and workers. Note that 'creative activists' are not mentioned, either. Feel a little hurt and also a little activated.

Contemplate the 1970s feel of the Report, which observes (a la McLuhan) that "we are now in the creative age" but includes two full pages of lightbulb graphics on a dark background (which used up most of the rest of my printer's toner, bringing to mind energy crises of past and present). Sigh at the parochial "us too" sentiment pervading the Report, in which the accomplishments of other "world cities" are cited as inspiration and guide for Toronto to also position itself as a "creative economy" leader. Note that longstanding, well-funded cultural institutions are mentioned by name throughout the report while the "pioneering", "grassroots" organizations that would benefit most from implementation of the Report's recommendations go largely unnamed. Perk up at excellence of Section 3 (click on "space" in left sidebar), although note too-frequent naming of spaces affiliated with Project Team members. Review Report recommendations gathered together in "Reacpping the Opportunities" section. Approve of most, although find them unwieldy and short on the "how" of implementation, even despite the "Levers/Interventions" identified in Appendix A. Note regrettable absence of forum or feedback space on the Imagine A Toronto ... website. Review the Toronto Case Study document (clicking link opens .pdf document) produced by Meric Gertler, Lori Tesolin, and Sarah Weinstock for the Strategies for Creative Cities Project. This document offers much of the substance which, if read alongside the Imagine A Toronto report, adds meaning to both.

Overall, remain unsure that either document fully addresses the questions each begins with: "What makes a creative city? How does Toronto stack up? How can Toronto take its place among the world's great creative cities?" (from the Imagine A Toronto ... document) and "What ‘levers’ can be employed to nurture and grow the creative economy and a city’s creative assets, and to make a city a creative/cultural centre?" and "How can the value of a city’s creative/cultural assets be maximized for the purposes of regional economic development and social inclusion?" (from the Case Study). Agree, however, that these are good places to start.

Contemplate my own role as a cultural entrpreneur in Toronto. Consider my own recommendations:

* Acknowledge the tremendous cultural strength of Toronto's existing, chronically underfunded "grassroots" cultural organizations which usually go overlooked when the city's cultural arbiters gather to contemplate the city's artistic navel. These include (but are certainly not limited to) the Toronto Public Space Committee, the Spacing crew, the [murmur] project, and the Scream Literary Festival.

* Stop looking so compulsively toward other cities like New York, Vancouver, or London as models of creative leadership. It's not that those cities aren't useful examples, it's that the chronic and desperate scrabble to turn Toronto into a "world class" city just like them reinforces our parochial mindset and fosters a vapid overlooking of the city's existing cultural assets.

* Actively consume Toronto-based creative work. Read a few of the hundreds of Toronto novels, plays, poetry collections, and short story anthologies (there's a long and continually expanding list at the Imagining Toronto Library). Recommend them to your friends and colleagues. Go see a local band and review it in your national newspaper column. Attend a local art event.

* Encourage creative use of public spaces. The TTC's Poetry on the Way program is one excellent example. Use local artists to decorate the city's tree boxes, waste bins, and transit shelters, rather than painting over or tearing down guerilla art installations, or, worse, hiring corporations to plaster them with advertising.

* Provide and lobby for tax incentives for artists and creative entrepreneurs. Property tax rebates for new or converted creative spaces would help. Business training programs would be useful for some. Ease planning and development hurdles for gallery and installation spaces. Lower the gatekeeping thresholds for access to local funding agencies. Buy local art for city-owned buildings and libraries.

[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 07/25 at 11:14 AM

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