3 min

Swish List

If we’re going to make Toronto a global cultural capital, let’s do it right

Buddies is a landmark LGBT culture hot spot, but the city could be doing more. Credit: Andrew Jacome

Every election, we try to grill candidates
 on whether they support queer issues that are already top of mind. But this year, in 
an effort to lead the conversation, Xtra is tossing out new ideas to make our city better and our community stronger. We’re calling it the Swish List, and between now and the election, we’ll be publishing new ideas from our writers and members of the community.

Remember Live with Culture? That cultural promotion program launched back in the David Miller days that saw dozens of cultural festivals launched and “Live with Culture” banners hung from lampposts across the city?

Apparently it’s still going. Who knew? It has a website and Twitter feed still, even if only a miniscule portion of Toronto knows about it.

It’s perhaps understandable that city cultural programs flew under the radar during Ford’s stint, but if we’re going to change mayors, why not take the opportunity to revamp the program so that all Torontonians can truly “live” with culture? Culture is, after all, the thing that makes us all proud to be Torontonians and identifies us to the world.

Toronto is infested with great cultural institutions that are inaccessible to the average Torontonian. Full adult admission to the ROM these days runs $27. To the AGO, it’s $25. Even the Science Centre charges $22.

In many European cities, local residents are given free or discounted admission, leaving tourists to pay the full price. What if we instituted a program where Toronto residents could get into any of our museums for, say, $10, with the remainder made up in block grants?

Libraries are gateways to literature and film for many Torontonians — so why are so many of them open only during business hours when people are working and children are in school? Could we not rationalize their opening hours? How about an experiment where we locate vending machines for book pickup and drop-off at major transit stations, so people can get books on their way to work and school? Even better: what if we put “hold” shelves in Toronto’s public schools, so kids could get books delivered right to them?

Beyond that, Live with Culture implies that culture should be at the centre of everything we do as a city. Take transit, for example. What if instead of the new robotic voice making stop announcements, we hired some of Toronto’s talented voice performers to record the stops for different lines? And when they call the stops, they highlighted the local cultural landmarks:

“Next stop, St Patrick Station. Get off here for the Art Gallery of Ontario and OCAD University. Transfer at street level to the Dundas streetcar.”

Speaking of St Patrick, how about getting rid of the ads and devoting the space to rotating exhibits of work by OCAD students? The forgone revenue would be minimal — akin to the short films that run on the platform screens.

How about piping recordings of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or the Canadian Opera Company into St Andrew and Osgoode stations?

Bathurst Street was adorned with lamppost flags a couple of years ago that noted some of the theatres on the stretch. Why not do the same on Yonge, to point out the Panasonic, Buddies, Ryerson, Mirvish, Elgin and Winter Garden, Sony and St Lawrence Centre?

Let’s honour Toronto’s cultural icons by naming places like parks and streets after them, instead of naming them after minor politicians and corporate “donors.”

Beyond that, let’s make it easier for groups to organize cultural events in our parks and public spaces by reducing the red tape and policing requirements that put an unreasonable burden on community groups. At the same time, let’s all remember that the province recently loosened liquor laws enough to permit more alcohol sales at street festivals. Allowing more liquor sales at Pride would make it more fun and help it raise more money.

Ultimately, it’s not the branding that matters — we don’t need Live with Culture to live with culture. Whoever’s in charge next year should make it a priority to give everyone a chance to experience our music, our performance, our art, our diversity and our city in its fullest.