Equity at Toronto Arts Council: A Brief History

For a number of years, the Toronto Arts Council has played an active role in promoting equity and inclusion in the arts. In the early 90s, in response to advocacy from artists of colour and Indigenous artists who reported being excluded or marginalized from TAC programs and operations, the Council recognized the need for broadened cultural representation on its board and committees and began to appoint qualified artists and arts workers drawn from specific cultural communities and backgrounds. In 1992, with the publication of its Cultural Equity report, prepared by arts consultant Betty Julian, TAC more formally endorsed the principle of cultural equity as a high priority and laid out a number of strategies to advance equity within TAC and the broader Toronto arts community.

Key directions articulated in the Cultural Equity report included: more fully reflecting Toronto’s diverse cultural communities in TAC’s decision-making bodies, broadening definitions of artistic and cultural practices, and extending and enlarging the Council’s programs of support for individual artists. (The latter recommendation was made in recognition of the fact that many communities lacked arts infrastructure but were well endowed with individual talent.)

Throughout the 1990s, TAC underwent a substantial change process to implement the recommendations in the Cultural Equity report. As part of this process, the organization commissioned several prominent artists and cultural workers, including Lillian Allan and Sharon Fernandez, to develop strategic initiatives designed to build arts infrastructure within diverse cultural communities, increase access for members of these communities to TAC programs, and render the Council’s existing structures more literate and receptive to varied arts and cultural practices.

Among the strategic initiatives implemented were: Art Works and Fresh Elements, two youth oriented mentorship programs that linked emerging and senior Indigenous artists and artists of colour and Culture Force, a multi-faceted program funded by a Federal-Provincial-City-Foundation partnership that saw support and development grants allocated to a number of arts service organizations serving artists of colour and Indigenous artists (e.g. Desh Pardesh, Native Women in the Arts, Black Arts Service Organization, Fresh Arts, etc.) and culminated in an international conference on cultural equity.

Throughout the 2000s, equity was reiterated in consecutive TAC strategic plans as a guiding principle and the organization systemically ensured representation of artists of colour and Indigenous artists on its decision-making bodies. The Council also took active measures to diversify its workforce and expand its program guidelines to be more fully inclusive of the diverse art forms and expressions represented in the City of Toronto.

In 2014, TAC introduced a dedicated Indigenous Arts Projects program and Indigenous Arts Officer position.

Until recently, the Council’s equity efforts have primarily focused on achieving racial and cultural equity. However, in response to advocacy from the Deaf arts, disability arts and Mad Arts[1] communities and extensive research and program development at its sister funding agencies (Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council), in 2015, TAC began to take steps to more fully engage and eliminate access barriers for Deaf artists, artists with disabilities and artists living with mental illness.

Ensuring equity for individuals that self-identify as two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual or pansexual (2SLGBTQIAP) is also a current priority.

[1] Mad Arts include artistic practices that explore and represent the expressions, perspectives and lived experiences of people who are living with mental illness. The term Mad Arts has its roots in the Mad Pride movement, wherein the term Mad is reclaimed and reframed as a social and political identity by people who have been labeled as “mentally ill”. (Adapted from the Canada Council for the Arts’ “Mad Arts” definition.)


Toronto Arts Council Equity Framework

Introduction
Equity at Toronto Arts Council: A Brief History
Equity Guiding Principles
Equity Priority Groups
Equity Priority Policy
Equity Steering Committee and Framework Implementation