Lights and Curtain Up for Arts in the Parks

October 7, 2021

Jodi Lastman

Toronto is home to both artists and arts lovers. In fact, 90% of Torontonians believe that the arts make Toronto a better place to live and twice as many artists live in Toronto than any other city.

Arts in the Parks was established in 2016 to address inequities around who benefits from Toronto’s robust arts scene. In a 2015 survey, it was found that higher-income households are significantly more likely to attend arts performances in the city. Among those that experience barriers to the arts, the most notable challenges are cost, time and geographical distance.


Photo credit: Hercinia Arts in Flagstaff Park, 2021


Arts in the Parks’ outdoor, family-friendly, free, live performances in parks were created to make it easier for more people to experience and benefit from Toronto’s 9-billion-dollar culture sector. Not surprisingly, the pandemic put a wrench in park performances. But now, safe events are back in a big and safe way.


Curtain time


The pandemic has resulted in 12,000 public performances being cancelled in Toronto and $58 million in lost revenue from ticket sales. It is not an overstatement to say the sector has been decimated. This doesn’t just mean our city was less vibrant. It also means that artists and arts producers lost $16 million in salaries and fees.

During this time, The Toronto Arts Foundation continued to provide grants to artists, both to provide financial stability to performers and continue to provide people with access to virtual and other artistic performances during endless lockdowns. In 2020, Arts in the Parks introduced Arts in the Parks Anyplace. Working hand-in-hand with artists, the initiative resulted in brilliant performances from top-notch artists like Parks ‘n Wreck and Clay and Paper Theatre.

“Arts in the Parks artists were so open to finding new ways to connect with audiences. They stretched their vision beyond the park, while still bringing the park to people’s homes” says Jaclyn Rodrigues, Community Engagement Manager at Toronto Arts Foundation.

Supporting the arts

During the pandemic, the City of Toronto remained committed to Toronto artists. The Toronto Arts Foundation partnered with Toronto Arts Council, with assistance from the City of Toronto, to create the TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund with 100% of all donations going directly to artists. A simple online application coupled with no restrictions on how the funds were used and no required reporting reduced barriers for artists who received the $1000 grants. The Fund resulted in a collective contribution of $836,347 to 982 Toronto artists.


Photo credit: Together again in Little Avenue Memorial Park, 2021


“We wanted to make it as simple as possible for artists to survive the pandemic in Toronto. There was a narrative about people fleeing the city. But when artists leave, there’s a huge impact on all our lives,” says Rodrigues.

Lights Up!

With restrictions lifted August saw Arts in the Parks back in the parks. Artists, volunteers and performers have returned to 25 North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough parks delivering safe, original programming, workshops and performances in 25 parks.

With strict health and safety protocols in place, artists are bringing socially distanced dance classes, workshops, theatrical performances, movies and festivals back to communities that need them more than ever.

“I’ve been part of Arts in the Parks from the beginning. We knew that bringing the arts to communities was special. But now, seeing audiences back in the park is everything,” says Rodrigues.


Photo credit: Nagata Shachu in Beverly Glen Park, 2021


The arts make Toronto alive. With the return of Arts in the Parks that beating pulse can be felt in parks like Amos Waites, Walter Saunders and Little Avenue Memorial. Audiences are coming together (while six feet apart) to reconnect with the sounds, sights and vibes that make Toronto a leading arts city.


Thank you to Toronto Arts Foundation for the photos. Cover photo credit: Dance Together Festival in Amos Waites Park, 2021.


The Toronto Arts FoundationToronto Arts CouncilCity of Toronto

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