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City Institute grad student Simon Black on cultural funding and long-term urban planning

City Institute grad student Simon Black on cultural funding and long-term urban planning

Rappers Kardinal Offishall and Saukrates, singer Jully Black, video director Lil’ X and deejay collective Baby Blue Soundcrew may not be familiar names to Torontonians over the age of 40, but anyone born after 1969 who loves hip hop and R & B is aware of these artists’ foundational roles in Canada’s urban music culture, wrote York graduate student Simon Black, a researcher at the City Institute at York University, in an op-ed for the Toronto Star Jan. 30:

Beyond their shared talents, what these names have in common is a little-known initiative of Ontario’s [former] NDP government: a program called Fresh Arts. Fresh Arts was developed under the umbrella of JobsOntario Youth, part of the larger JobsOntario training and employment program the NDP government introduced to address the labour market fallout of the early ’90s recession.

The spirit of the now legendary program lives on in the Remix Project, a community arts hub that provides space for Toronto’s new generation of urban artists to flourish. Remix participants come primarily from the city’s priority neighbourhoods.

Remix’s funding is neither stable nor predictable, which makes long-term planning difficult.

Indeed, as policy wonks trumpet the idea of the “creative city” and the economic benefits of a vibrant cultural sector, it’s confounding why projects like Remix should have to struggle for every dollar. The city and the province must do more to support such proven successes.

Yet visions of what we can achieve collectively through government are threatened by promises of cutbacks and tax savings. As the latest city budget demonstrated, cuts to services are the order of the day, with our new mayor promising more in the near future.

This is short-sighted. Fresh Arts demonstrated the potential of community-driven programs partnering with government to improve the lives of the city’s marginalized youth. Remix is now doing the same.

Programs like these are not part of a “gravy train.” As the success of Fresh Arts and Remix graduates demonstrates, they are smart social investments that benefit us all.

Moreover, they are central to building a strong, socially inclusive city that is creative, prosperous and just.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin