Thank you very much Noble (Chummar) for your kind introduction.
I would like to acknowledge Shabin Mohamed, AGO Trustee and member of the Rogers family.
My invited head table guests—Che Kothari and Tim Jones—two people who work hard to make this city a better place.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge AGO guests Steven Davidson, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport as well as Christine Innes, Chief of Staff to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Chan.
The province has been a true partner to us.
Councillors Adam Vaughan, Mary Fragedakis and Gary Crawford are also sitting with my colleagues.
Many thanks for your leadership on this year’s budget that increased arts funding to the city.
And I would like to acknowledge AGO Board members Jim Fleck, Avie Bennett and Beth Horowitz.
Here at the Empire Club for over 100 years, people have gathered to talk about Toronto, to talk about issues, to talk about our future.
Earlier this week, the Empire Club hosted John Tory who challenged us to think long-term and demand better when it comes to public transit.
And in a few days, the Club is hosting Sheldon Levy, President of Ryerson, along with a panel of entrepreneurs from Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.
How Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone came to be is a remarkable story. A group of students recognized that the way they were learning needed to change if they were to be successful in the new economy.
They challenged the status quo, challenged “authority” – and Ryerson University took a risk. And they are achieving wildly.
The DMZ, as they call it, is now one of Canada’s largest incubators and multi-disciplinary co-working spaces for young entrepreneurs.
Both John and Sheldon have something in common: the need to challenge the status quo, to advocate for change, to make things better… for our city and for our future.
In fact, I’m confident that all of us in this room share that interest in making Toronto better.
I want to add my voice and challenge all of you to think boldly.
How do we do this?
We should think like artists.
Artists challenge the status quo.
They think and dream big.
They see things that don’t yet exist.
They change the scale of things; make the large issues of our time intimate by personalizing ideas and messages to a human scale.
Artists, however singular their voice, reach their public through collaboration and sharing.
That’s how Toronto can be great. Learning from this.
All of us, working together, thinking creatively, city building.
I want to challenge you to believe that we all have the ability to think creatively.
And that we really don’t have that far to go to create a city that is second to none.
Since the AGO reopened after our major expansion—and for many years before that—your Art Gallery of Ontario has run balanced budgets while presenting what we believe to be increasingly dynamic and engaging programming.
Our growing visitor numbers suggest this to be true.
We are proud of this and we have worked hard at every staff and volunteer level of the organization to achieve this result.
We have focused on fiscal prudence, revenue generation and smart programming to stay relevant in a city rich in gallery options.
And the result has been that we have learned a very important lesson: We are actually richer the more we can give away.
Giving away makes us richer because … and here is my thought … the more we give away to others…
The more access we give to community and youth groups…
The more community-based membership programs we offer…
The more we allow others to determine what goes on the gallery walls…
The more we give away in both material things and in expertise and authority…
This is how we truly collaborate and partner with other organizations, individuals and social causes…
And this is how we increase our reach and relevance to audiences.
In other words, the more we can give away some of our authority and link it to collaboration, the greater will be our utility as a civic institution.
As the great contemporary Serbian artist Marina Abramovic said recently: “the interesting thing with collaboration is to give up part of yourself…” that is, you have to give up some of the sense of history and authority as you know it.
You have to take a risk.
I make this point, because I want to talk about the place of public institutions, especially art museums, and their increasing importance, in the ecology of city building.
I believe the most important need that museums can now fill is by encouraging new forms of collaboration that lead to new forms of learning.
Museums are a place to model new ways of learning, and thinking and doing.
Museums are a place to share the skills that encourage a more creative work force.
Museums are a true place for public dialogue.
Collaboration is how the great cities become great by opening possibility to those who challenge the status quo the most.
Public space for dialogue is rare these days: universities, perhaps David Pecaut Square in Toronto, or the ideal of Nathan Phillips Square, and to this list I would add public museums, a place where conversations can happen.
Collaboration is the key element in the building of a new civic space.
Those of us involved in large institutions realize that we have to extend a true invitation to those who will help us think differently and more creatively.
And in exchange, we need to be involved in more conversations where the role of artistic, creative thinking is recognized and valued.
At the Campanile in Florence, the portraits of the great artists and writers of the day are embedded into the architecture forever because the voices of artists were valued and seen as timeless.
In every great city around the world, arts and cultural leaders must be engaged in urban planning, in urban vision-building, and they must be recognized for doing so.
Let me share a quote by the anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“The city (is a)…center where, any day in any year, there may be a fresh encounter with a new talent, a keen mind or a gifted specialist…. To play this role in our lives a city must have a soul—a university, a great art or music school, a cathedral or a great mosque or temple, a great laboratory or scientific center, as well as the libraries and museums and galleries that bring past and present together….A city must be a place where groups of women and men are seeking and developing the highest things they know.”
It’s a wondrous definition of what a city should be and could be.
Even before Dr. Mead defined the city so well, Torontonians understood what she was talking about.
The AGO was born because our founders understood the importance of art to the city.
They were risk takers.
Let me tell you about James Mavor.
James Mavor, a Scottish immigrant to Toronto, was the Chair of the department of Political Economy at the University of Toronto.
He was also a passionate believer in the accessibility of art for everyone.
And George Reid.
George Reid was a prominent Ontario artist who studied in Toronto, Philadelphia, and Paris.
Starting in 1890, he taught at the Central Ontario School (now the Ontario College of Art and Design).
And then there was Sir Edmund Walker.
In 1886, Edmund Walker became the General Manager of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. He travelled the world and cultivated an interest in art—and an art collection.
These three—together with their friends Harriet Boulton Smith, and her husband Goldwin Smith, and Sarah Trumbull Warren and a number of others—decided to take a risk.
In a town of cobblestone streets, where the tallest building was just 11 stories high, where just over 200,000 people lived, there was room for an art gallery.
Together they founded the AGO because as Sir Edmund said, every great city needs a great art gallery.
The first exhibition was an international contemporary exhibition….living artists from Scotland.
Risk-taking has never stopped for us.
The catalyst for our last major renovation—which led to our re-opening in 2008—was an extraordinary gift from leading art collector and businessman, Ken Thomson.
Ken, and the Thomson family, donated some 2,000 works of art and an investment in our transformed building of $100 million dollars—the largest gift ever made to a Canadian cultural institution.
Ken made the commitment because, as he said at our unveiling, “I would like to see the AGO be at the centre of Toronto’s cultural life, and become more universally recognized as an art institution of international stature.”
He encouraged us to think bigger, to engage with the world.
We have always drawn together risk-takers, we’ve drawn patrons, we’ve drawn together citizens who have a passion for cultivating the soul of the city.
Cities became thriving population magnets because of commerce. They became great because of a commitment to the spirit and the reality of creativity and art.
Art—or the creative process more generally—allows both community leaders and citizens to think of things in new ways.
It encourages advanced problem solving skills.
It encourages collaboration.
It makes the case for thinking deeply about what the future can bring.
Cities became great because of a belief that in celebrating art, a life force and a humanizing value is affirmed as part of a community.
Consider London, for example.
Four hundred years ago London was a central gathering place for farming trade—as well as the seat of monarchy and government.
The concentration of wealth and trade was the perfect environment for the development of a concentration of culture.
Lord Chamberlain’s Theatre Company, where Shakespeare worked for most of his career, was not only named after its sponsor—it was the leading theatre company in town in 1600.
With the invention of the printing press in the 18th century, the coffee house in London became a place to gather, to debate ideas and read the news.
That kind of symbiosis between culture and commerce is still working in London, where it’s no coincidence that Canary Wharf and the Tate Modern came into being within a few years of each other.
Both are at manufacturing sites that had died in the 1980s—and both were reborn at the cusp of the 21st century with the private sector’s investment.
In great cities, commerce can influence culture.
Commerce can invest in culture and indeed help to create the ideal conditions for culture to flourish.
Thriving art and commerce drives tourism, attracts employees, encourages creativity.
For many years this was an evident truth over and above all else, and almost optional beyond the primary engines of productivity and an established work ethic.
Now it is an imperative. Why do I say this?
Because competitive economies just don’t do things differently, they think about things differently.
They reach out.
They invite new ways of connecting.
They are, as technology guru Don Tapscott says, inherently collaborative in addressing new technologies and what they represent. He writes: “The internet radically drops collaboration costs, which enables new approaches to global collaboration and problem solving. [And] by slashing transaction and collaboration costs, the internet is changing the deep structure of most institutions.”
There is a place for deep collaboration in the invitation we must extend to the creative voice in the building of our cities—and not just in architecture, though that is crucially important.
There is room for the engagement of the creative voice in the building of public transit.
After all, public transit is not just about engineering the subway line.
It’s about connectedness at its very core: connectedness to the roads above, to public amenities, to public space such as parks, and the combination of diverse transit systems complementing each other and being seen as an integrated network….
Artists get this in a profound way.
They connect things by taking them apart and putting them together again.
Why couldn’t city planners learn from artists?
The creative sector has a role in the creation, maintenance and beautification of public space such as parks, establishing the highest possible standards for the look and feel of our built neighbourhoods.
In fact, all of us have a role to play. Collaboration makes things better.
Consider when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and a group called the Municipal Art Society of New York joined together in the mid-1970’s to save Grand Central Station.
The station was symbolic of a city in decline—the roof leaked, the ceiling paintings were covered with nicotine soot.
She convinced the mayor—and the media—that it could once again become a symbol of a city that values beauty, a city with pride.
All of those efforts required public engagement, private support and philanthropy—the crucial three P’s committing to beauty, to civic pride.
It takes them all to make a difference.
In Toronto there is already a new level of engagement that can take us to the next level.
We are starting to make conscious decisions to involve arts leaders and artists in the conversation more often…. and take them as seriously as the voices of financiers and developers.
Think of 401 Richmond—over by Spadina.
Margie Zeidler, architect, city planner and urban activist, renovated the former tin-making MacDonald Manufacturing building, and re-created it as a place for businesses and artists to co-exist.
It is now home to 140 artists and entrepreneurs.
Working side by side they learn from each other every day, and because they all have varied connections and approaches to the idea of “public” and “consumer” they have much to share.
It’s a diversified galaxy of workspaces as a cross pollinating marketplace, where new ideas in one sector help another apply new pathways to problem solving.
In one of its most recent ventures, Artscape, under the leadership of Tim Jones, developed the Wychwood Barns.
It is a former streetcar repair facility—and Artscape turned it into a complex for artist live/work spaces, facilities for not-for-profit organizations, a community-run gallery and a “Covered Street” for farmers’ and art markets.
The Shaw street project is another great example.
Artscape acquired the Shaw Street School in 2010 thanks to a generous lead gift from the Michael Young Family Foundation.
This magnificent structure, built in 1914, will spring back to life as Artscape Youngplace in the fall of 2013. At 75,000 square feet, Artscape Youngplace will be the largest cultural institution in the Queen West neighbourhood.
It will be truly multipurpose including studios for artists, craftspeople and designers, learning labs, gallery spaces and community space.
All connected. Imagine the conversations that will go on there.
There’s Daniels Spectrum too. One of the city’s great new initiatives.
Formerly the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre, Daniels Spectrum calls itself a platform for cultural exchange and collaboration.
Here’s a typical month in its new schedule: a forum for policy discussions, a wine and beer pairing event, a Chinese play, a Black film festival and a storytelling event for kids.
The key ingredient in all of these Toronto projects: bringing business and art together. And creating a space for a public forum to exist.
These projects broke the rules.
At its core… these projects embody ideas of collaboration: the use of space to bring audiences together…creating a rich public square for dialogue… allowing, by virtue of their investments in space, new conversations to begin.
Every sector has the potential to become more creative and more collaborative and that, in time, will prove to be the best competitive advantage of our economy.
The new economy is not going to be about knowledge anymore.
Or expertise in the conventional sense.
Learning will always be a requirement.
Integrated, high-level thinking skills will be in demand
Creative use of data, yes.
But ideas about singular authority or expertise that is sole sourced may largely be a thing of the past.
The creative economy, our next economy, is where there are few boundaries between economic activity and creative activity.
Where the synergy between art and business helps both thrive.
Where invention is both creative and commercial.
I think we need to foster the creative economy.
A place where what we don’t know is as interesting as what we do know, and where engagement with the unknown (a key learning we can take from artists) is encouraged as a pathway to something new.
As Pablo Picasso said: “Everything you can imagine is real.”
It’s also about how we think now.
There are fewer boundaries between disciplines. We need to learn to learn differently, or create systems that recognize the varied ways of learning.
It’s a similar point that Thomas Friedman made in the New York Times a few weeks ago.
In his March 30 (2013) editorial, titled “Need a Job? Invent It”, Friedman relates the following exchange he had with the Harvard education guru Tony Wagner.
“What” Friedman asks “do young people need to know today?”
“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” Wagner says. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Young people who are intrinsically
motivated—curious, persistent, and willing to take risks—will learn new knowledge and skills continuously.
They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own—a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”
“So what should be the focus of education reform today? “ Friedman asks…and here is Wagner’s reply:
“… More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
I’m sure that if you asked the Rotman students who are here with us today, they’d agree.
For me, this is a short jump to the place of the creative voice in the building of our cities: engagement in building of public transit, utility and beautification of public space such as parks, establishing the highest possible standards for the look and feel of our built neighborhoods….
And as you know well, we don’t just learn in the classroom. We learn by being exposed to different ideas, different ways of thinking.
Fortune 500 companies and companies like Apple use arts-based learning as part of professional development and leadership.
In fact, more than 350 of the Fortune 500 employ arts-based learning in workshops, consultancies, coaching and lectures.
IBMs Global Business CEO study found that creativity is the most crucial factor for future success.
And that is why cities need to be laboratories for generating new art and new artists.
If we build places for creative collaboration, if we cultivate spaces for cross-disciplinary conversations, Toronto too can become one of the great cities.
We have all the right elements to create a city of wonderful experiences, of fresh encounters like Mead said.
The diversity of our population—in ethnicity, skills and our reputation as a fair trader in the world of ideas—place us perfectly to encourage this.
We have imaginative business leaders, and ambitious and groundbreaking artists.
We have great centres of learning—universities, colleges and a growing range of internship programs.
We are a draw for students, for immigrants.
We have all of the right ingredients.
So where do we start?
We need to strengthen the partnerships that are being developed—those links that are being made.
If you are a developer – invite artists and the arts community into your conversations about how to make buildings more beautiful and more integrated into the city.
If you are a city planner – invite us into your conversations about how to make our city more beautiful and connected.
If you are a banker, business leader, Board of Trade member—invite us into your conversations about how to collaborate, take risks, grow our economy.
By opening up the conversation, beginning to collaborate, we can begin to think like artists.
Think boldly. Take risks.
Before I go, I want to leave you with this challenge: do we have the courage to be a greater city than we are?
I believe we do.
We are all city builders.
We can’t delegate the job—we all need to do our part.
Let’s work together.
Let’s make it happen.