News   Jun 18, 2024
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Toronto's Culture Production Boom

I am amused by how dipladenia splendens is 'luxe'. My family earned quite a bit selling these to the likes of Conrad Black and I've spotted them in more than one locally produced show.
Struggles in the arts community- leadership, especially from the city will be needed:
From long-established theatre companies to major summer festivals, arts and culture organizations across Toronto and beyond are programming in the face of serious financial challenges, signalling an arts scene that many worry is in decline.
Scotiabank will drop its title sponsorship of Toronto’s Contact Photography Festival after this year’s edition, the Star confirmed on Thursday.
Established in 2007, Contact has emerged as one the largest photography festivals in the world. The annual, month-long festival, which features a roster of North American and international lens-based artists, is set to take place this May.
But more than two years after theatres reopened, the sector is still teetering on the brink of a crisis, and could be facing its most challenging year yet amid audience attrition, declining private support and insufficient public funding. Companies — including Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company and Factory Theatre — are mounting productions with smaller budgets; some are cutting programming; others that halted operations in March 2020 never returned.
Just for Laughs Toronto, which was to take place in September, has been cancelled after the organization behind the festival announced it is restructuring its business.
In a statement shared on March 6, Groupe Juste pour rire inc. (JPR) confirmed that “the 2024 edition of the Just for Laughs Toronto festival will not take place.”
Two of Toronto's popular summer festivals are at a crossroads.
The Toronto Fringe Festival, after a year of near devastating cuts to funding and programming, is seeking a path to financial sustainability, while the Luminato Festival, whose events are significantly smaller compared to what they once were, aims to enter a new era of growth.
Canada's second largest repertory theatre company is millions of dollars in the red after recording the largest single-year operating deficit in its history.
In total, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake reported a shortfall of $5.7 million in 2023, forcing the organization to significantly cut operations for its upcoming season.
Harbourfront Centre needs to find new sources of revenue if it is to continue fulfilling its mandate as Toronto’s waterfront destination for arts and culture, according to a federal government report released this week.
“HC does not yet have a sustainable operating foundation. It also does not have adequate revenues to support much needed capital improvements which will in turn help to attract revenues including sponsorships and other sources of funding,” according to the report, which reviewed Harbourfront Centre operations from 2018-2023.
“Securing sources of capital investments is an outstanding need.”
Hot Docs says the Toronto festival reached peak attendance in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge setback and recovery has been slow.
In an email seeking financial support from audiences, the non-profit organization's president says they've reduced overhead costs while continuing to operate, but are running out of cash.
More than just money is involved in the departure of Bell, said Barry Avrich, a Toronto filmmaker and former TIFF board member.
“Undoubtedly, losing a prestigious title sponsorship is extraordinarily distressing, especially for an arts organization. Additionally, with Bell, they had a sponsor that did more than write a cheque. They were a fabulous marketing partner that spent serious marketing dollars to activate their sponsorship,” Avrich said via email.
Bell’s $5 million in sponsorship money may seem a small sum for a telecommunications giant, which is currently engaged in spending cuts and layoffs in response to recent revenue declines.
But it’s a large sum for TIFF, which gets more than half its annual revenues from sponsorships, government grants and endowments.
But some optimism:
Spending in Canada’s arts and culture sector is expected to trend upwards for 2024, marking a turnaround compared to last year and signifying optimism for a beleaguered sector that has struggled to find its audience after a protracted pandemic shutdown.
A new national survey conducted by Nanos found that, on average, patrons plan to spend $1,377 on arts and cultural events this year.
While some 57 per cent of respondents said they intend to budget the same amount for leisure and entertainment in 2024 compared to 2023, one in five people noted they plan to spend more.
Though barriers that hinder the return of some audiences still remain, such as an event’s location, pollster Nik Nanos said the survey findings should be “very validating” for cultural patrons and the sector, which includes the performing arts, live music, art galleries and museums.

Some comments:
I used to run a show before the pandemic that sold out every month. After the pandemic, at most, I had 10 people in the audience. It's fucked out there.
My friends who are in Sketchfest this year are struggling. Shows cancelling left and right. What's happening to life in Canada? Are we only here to work and play roll up the rim? Fucking can't even play that anymore.
The banks have all squeezed their arts funding to elsewhere. Almost every major arts institution in Toronto is facing challenges and some are already the dead canaries. Get ready for more commercial Van Gogh experiences and fewer opportunities for relevant local culture.
The small arts scenes are dying too. I used to run fiction and poetry readings. It's basically impossible to get a an inexpensive venue now and lots of people are still hesitant to go out to public events, even if they're cheap/free.
Open Studio at 401 Richmond just recently put out an urgent request for fundraising lest they close their doors after 54 years.
Absolutely terrible situations for the arts communities in Toronto 😢
Working at a major venue, I can confirm it's harder and harder to book acts and fill seats.
Acts have more and more financial responsibility, and COVID is still a very real thing. If your act gets infected, it will fuck over a major portion of the tour.
The economics of going out and having a night of fun has also changed. Tickets are more expensive. Drinks are more expensive. Food is more expensive. And our wages are stagnating. People can't afford to have the entertainment we once loved, mostly because the people at the top have taken all the disposable income and kept it for themselves, promising us all it will eventually trickle down.
I started noticing a decline even before the pandemic, but obviously not as bad as it is now.

There were a lot of exciting local artists back in the 2000s, but you always sensed that even back then the city didn't do the best job promoting them. Still, there was an active art community and audience back then that started to get pushed out of the city during the 2010s. Many people I once knew either personally or was a fan of eventually left Toronto and found success elsewhere.
Crisis at Hot Docs- seems to be long-running issues that have finally come to a boil:

Hot Docs programmers in shock mass exit from festival (exclusive)​

UPDATE: In a shock move, 10 Hot Docs programmers are exiting the Canadian documentary festival en masse ahead of this year’s edition which is due to begin on April 25.

Later on Monday afternoon the festival confirmed the news and added that artistic director Hussain Currimbhoy departed on March 20 for “personal reasons”.

Samah Ali, Vivian Belik, Jesse Cumming, Angie Driscoll, Margaret Pereira, Gabor Pertic, Kaitlynn Tomaselli, Myrocia Watamaniuk, Mariam Zaidi, and Yiqian Zhang announced they were leaving on social media on Monday.
Earlier this year Hot Docs president Marie Nelson told Canadian outlets that 2024 could be the event’s last year unless more financial support is forthcoming from the government after losses sustained during the pandemic. The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema closed for two years during Covid and the festival returned in 2023 after cancellations.

Hot Docs Programmers’ Statement 25 March 2024 11:30pm EST

The ten programmers who have left Hot Docs 2024 have done so independently of any other Hot Docs personnel.

We consider ourselves to be a principled, process-driven programming team, but this year we were unable to carry out that process.

Programming Hot Docs is a labour of love: love for both the films/filmmakers, and for the process of selection. We, as programmers, uphold a standard of care for filmmakers – there is an implicit trust between us.

Hot Docs does important work, operating under the values of inclusivity and equity.

Recently, the once welcoming programming environment was turned into a toxic workplace by:

a lack of respect for protocol and business communication; the dismissal and/or diminishment of team members’ voices; breaches of contracts across various programmes
We were expected to work in an ever-changing, chaotic, unprofessional and discriminatory environment.

Programming team members approached HR, Senior Management, the President and then the Board in good faith to share our concerns. There was an effort by all parties to work together until a request by the programming team for public transparency (regarding the above concerns) was denied.

In order for a world-class event like Hot Docs to remain relevant and thriving, the programming team believes it must be kept accountable and transparent. Trust and respect is essential, as is a deeply-held commitment above all to filmmakers – none of this would exist without them, and they’re the reason we do this work.

The programming team fully supports and celebrates the films in the festival this year, just as we support all documentary filmmakers working to speak truth to power.

Signed, 2024 Hot Docs Programmers

Reddit insight:
Full thoughts as an employee at Hot Docs for many, many years:

Hot Docs began as a wonderful (and small) documentary organization lead by a passionate group of folks who cared deeply about documentaries, the filmmakers and the industry as a whole. When I joined, it was clear there was so much care and love, built upon years of great programming and industry programs. The energy was palpable and it was a joy to work there despite high stress levels and low pay.

But over the years, I watched as things changed, not mildly, but drastically.

The pandemic rocked Hot Docs hard with staff layoffs, revenue loss and the ultimate struggle so many cinemas are facing now...getting people back to watch films. This is valid and a major problem for all arts organizations that everyone is looking to try and overcome.

But ultimately the problems that Hot Docs faces most gravely are not the financial ones and run far deeper than that. What is most disheartening is that post-pandemic, Hot Docs continues to use the pandemic as an excuse for the lack of leadership and communication. After the departure of the former Executive Director, things began to move quickly downhill. Even before this programming mass exodus, there was another staff exodus of about 50 people over a year or two. The turnover rate was unlike anything I've ever seen.

Executives at high levels continued to maintain exceptionally high salaries while coordinators and managers picked up scraps and were pushed to their breaking points with the requirements of the organization and lack of resources. When staff would depart, they were often never replaced and the work fell to the next person to pick up the pieces. Everyone was leaving unhappy and angry with the organization, and thus there was little desire for detailed documentation for the next person given the frustrations. This is the cycle of toxicity that was running rampant at Hot Docs.

I watched as person after person left this organization; people who cared so deeply about the work and mandate of Hot Docs. I've never seen such a hardworking and passionate group of people who could not get through to management. Meeting after meeting was held to try and get execs to understand the morale of the staff, the difficulties we were facing and to try and bring fresh new voices into the mix..and nothing stuck.

The hiring of an American president also signaled a very significant change in the organization. The focus shifted, and Canadian content seemed to be on the chopping block despite this being a Canadian festival, rooted in the buzzing and beautiful documentary scene here. Meanwhile the new president was flying in from the US to be in the office, and the organization was paying for her hotels and travel (first class). She was also unreachable for most of the staff to communicate with.

Now, here we are and the programming team has quit en masse in solidarity with one another. I am incredibly proud of this team for standing up for themselves, the filmmakers and the documentary industry. I have seen first hand what goes on there and I have so much respect for this team doing this and I stand in solidarity with them. This is SO much larger than finances, or 'sinking ship' mentality. These programmers are some of the most dedicated in the industry, and are so invested of the future of these filmmakers, so whatever happened can be sure it is *bad*.

I hope that if Hot Docs makes it through this, that it will be a wake-up call. The festival is beloved, as it should be, but not at the expense of its filmmakers OR staff.
It's common for artsworkers to work hard for limited return. It's the bargain one makes for supporting the work of other creatives; but there's a difference between making small sacrifices for a greater goal and being taken advantage of by festival directors who operated without oversight or consequence.

In the past few years over half of Hot Docs staff resigned, one by one, as they could no longer labor within a system like this. And this exodus started before the pandemic began, so the new president using this as the cause for the festival's decline is a gross misrepresentation. Staff felt voiceless, underappreciated, exploited, and abused long before March of 2020 and the lockdown.

What I find most problematic in the recent rhetoric from the new president and festival spokespeople is how progressive and left-leaning the organization presents itself while behind the scenes it is the exact opposite.

The only way I can see Hot Docs making things right and moving forward is by actively addressing the issues of the past, making those who played a part in the toxicity fully accountable, and starting fresh. It remains to be seen if this will be allowed to happen.
I also worked for hot docs for over a decade. I was part of the recent mass exodus. The toxicity goes way back. Former leadership was guided by an abusive and vindictive dictator who the board refused to hold accountable. This man flaunted personal wealth, constant global travel and other ridiculous behaviours in front of staff while saying, with a straight face, that they couldn't afford to pay staff a living wage.

Imagine showing your minimum wage cinema staff photos of your multi million dollar Muskoka cottage boathouse that was flooded by a storm...and moaning about it!? To part time staff who can barely afford subway fare to get to work?

Leadership pushed so many staff into mental health crisis from the abusive and bullying demands, lack of resources and veiled threats. And the (contract) HR person telling staff "you know I can't do anything about him". This is the story of scores of past staff.

Millions raised for a failed capital campaign (where is that money now?), funds raised for film funds and hosting wealthy people, while staff who could barely afford rent were sitting there watching. The bloated ego of this place is apparently alive and well, as they continue with the hiring of an out of touch executive who commutes weekly from the US, who then hired a toxic Artist Director with a known track record of abusive and bullying behavior. They are lobbying for more government funding while they spend money on ridiculous expenses. Don't give them a penny. They will piss it away and then ruin staff's mental health claiming a lack of resources. That speech Marie made yesterday should have gotten her fired.
So I am watching ep 6 of Toronto Law and Order. Was excited for the first episode but felt declining enthusiasm as the series progressed but it is not awful just a little weird. But tonight I started this episode and am thinking that a lot of it is a really big inside joke and I love it! The pronunciation of Toronto with a hard T, the street numbers that make no sense like 1250 Wellington West and the stunted way the acting comes across (except for Karen Robinson who is amazing!) Both of the people behind this show live in Toronto and know when details that are meant to tie into a specific location are actually way off.

All of this would make a pedestrian, formulaic series except for someone who actually lives in Toronto and has had a healthy diet of CanCon. When I viewed it as a bit of a joke it is actually very funny and I can see this becoming a favourite. Few shows spark a lot of conversation but this one does.

Finally I want to commend the set designers and location scouts as they have nailed the interiors, furnishings and art. If this show is to be believed, our grumpy little burgs justice professionals work in ultra modern or trendily renovated buildings that are well appointed, filled with natural light, uncrowded and spacious.

More later but I think that I am going to stick around for more.
Episode 7:


Hopefully this will usher in an era of sustainable expansion for Windfields.

Crisis at Hot Docs- seems to be long-running issues that have finally come to a boil:

Reddit insight:

Hot Docs is 'temporarily' laying off more staff and is shuttering the Bloor Cinema for 3 months as it tries to sort itself out.

Watching ‘Fellow Travellers’ which was filmed in Ontario. Just a shot of The Carlu being used as a set and a reminder that we have a great collection of interiors to suite every taste and adding more all the time!