Time to Re-Invest in Creative Capital Gains: A $1 Investment from the City Leverages $17.75 for Cultural Organizations

In early 2011, the City of Toronto Economic Development committee called on three prominent Toronto citizens to assemble and co-chair the Creative Capital Advisory Council to update the City’s Culture Plan. The Advisory Council, led by Robert Foster, Karen Kain and Jim Prentice, and which included special advisors Richard Florida and Kevin Stolarick, as well as other key members of the cultural community, worked together to create new culture plan. The report, entitled “Creative Capital Gains: An Action Plan for Toronto” was released on May 4, 2011.

This excerpt from the report’s preface describes the three recommendations made in the report. The full report can be viewed and downloaded from the City of Toronto’s Creative Capital Initiative web site.

Culture animates a city. Whether it’s the big showy downtown event, a neighbourhood festival or a Tai Chi group meeting in a suburban park, culture infuses life into every corner of the city. Why? Because everyone who lives or works in our city has the potential to be creative—and culture stimulates that creativity, leading to a better and stronger Toronto. That’s why culture is more than just “nice to have”: it creates real competitive advantage.

Toronto’s cultural and creative capital creates businesses, attracts new residents from around the world, draws in tourists, increases quality of life for its current residents, and gives commuters from the suburbs a reason to stay in the city after office hours. But this position is tenuous. Although Toronto has a reputation for world-class cultural events and facilities, cities around the world are working hard to better leverage their cultural and creative capital. Toronto must do more to retain and enhance its competitive position.

Yes, Toronto must do more. But that does not mean the responsibility rests solely with the City. The business community, not-for-profit foundations and organizations, individuals and the cultural community must all play their roles if Toronto is truly to become one of the world’s creative capitals.

This report makes a set of recommendations to the City of Toronto. While all these other actors have their parts to play, for now they can wait in the wings and rehearse their lines. What should be the City’s part in our cultural production? Is the City the star? A supporting character? Or maybe just playing a walk-on cameo (to thunderous applause)? Many within the cultural community believe that the City should be a producer (just pay the bills) and a silent partner. It is our core belief that the cultural competitive advantage of Toronto is most enhanced when the City focuses its attention, effort, and resources on providing the best service to all residents and by doing those things that only the City can do well.

There are three broad overarching themes that fit this framework:

  1. Focusing on service
  2. Using the City’s convening power
  3. Making cultural investments where only the City can


In a great city, cultural “customers” are both consumers and producers. Every consumer is a potential producer, and every producer is a potential consumer. The city’s customers for cultural goods and services are varied and diverse. They include tourists, residents, commuters and kids, as well as individual artists and arts organizations. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to addressing the customer service issues that were raised during the consultations and other research. However, one consistent theme emerged: working with the City can be a real challenge. At present, the City of Toronto’s enormous creative capital is constrained because it necessarily forms part of different City departments, agencies, boards and commissions. For example, art, heritage and public art are in the Culture Section; tourism lives in Economic Development alongside fashion and design, while film is separate again. Parks, planning, housing, transportation, public works, the TTC, and other public entities increasingly need to engage with designers, artists and the creative economy.We urge the Mayor to convene a Creative Capital Working Group to coordinate all these creative resources. The Working Group would join all the arts and creative disciplines in the City administrations, working with those in the private sector, the province and the federal government to improve Toronto’s creative capital, to provide better creative services to all Torontonians and to strategize on acquiring non-conventional funding from the private sector and other levels of government.

Convening Power

The City of Toronto is so alive with culture that organizations and institutions often get focused solely on their own endeavours. Opportunities for coordination, which could greatly magnify the impact of events and exhibitions, are frequently lost. Further, the business community noted that greater awareness of the City’s plans and priorities would help them with their funding decisions. With several major events happening over the next five years—peaking with the Pan/Parapan American Games in 2015—greater coordination would help to dramatically improve the city’s competitiveness on the world stage. Awareness of opportunities and coordination of efforts could be accomplished without requiring any additional funding.We invite the Mayor to convene periodic Mayor’s Breakfasts for Toronto’s cultural attraction and business leaders to discuss upcoming opportunities and events, to support tourism and to facilitate greater information and knowledge exchange.

Cultural Investments

The City’s investment achieves greater leverage when the City provides support that would otherwise go wanting. The City is in the best position to understand, evaluate, and facilitate support for a myriad of events and organizations across the entire city. The City’s investment can also be the initiator for a whole stream of additional funding from a wide variety of other sources. Often, the City’s support can come via in-kind services or the waiving of fees or other charges. Although highly leveraged by funding from other sources, the City’s investment in culture is tremendously important. To maintain and build significant competitive advantage, the City needs to bring its commitment to culture to be more in line with that of other global creative capitals.We recommend that the City keep pace with international competitors by making a firm commitment to sustain Toronto’s cultural sector and to position Toronto as a leading, globally competitive Creative Capital.

We care deeply about the future of our city. We recognize that in a time of necessary fiscal restraint, the City must think carefully about its investments in order to ensure they are working for the good of all taxpayers. This report details how targeted investments in the cultural economy can generate significant returns for the people who live and work here, and come to visit our great city. Toronto can create jobs and wealth, attract and retain talent, build stronger neighbourhoods, and build a prosperous city through culture. We have an opportunity to capitalize on our strong economic position relative to many of our competitors by recognizing that culture is the fundamental driver of Toronto’s future prosperity. The stage is set. The curtain has gone up. We must act now.

Download this Insight (PDF)

The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors—location, place and city-regions—in global economic prosperity. Led by Director Richard Florida, we take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.