Opinion: is Toronto's creative scene really that toxic?

Crossing the border for success | Soho House

The community just needs redressing and better funding, says Sisi Berhe

Tuesday 5 April 2022   By Sisi Berhe

Toronto, now popularised as ‘The 6’ by Drake, is home to some of the world’s most talented creators. But why are we seeing them cross borders to receive flowers and recognition before we celebrate them in their hometown?

Over the past two years, there’s been a shift in the good old nine-to-five, and typical corporate jobs are now a thing of the past. As history repeats itself, we’ve progressed from the Middle Ages and re-emerged into a time of renaissance – a fervent period of cultural, artistic, political and economic ‘rebirth’. It’s no secret that a halt in ‘normalcy’ has caused some people to step out of auto-pilot and quit their jobs to become their own bosses and embrace their passion projects. So, why are we still seeing our creators – be that musicians, painters, writers or DJs – flee the city for success?

Crossing the border for success | Soho House

In my opinion, the largest issue in Toronto’s creative industry is the lack of corporate and community support. The economic insecurity that artists feel is not unique, but their concerns are similar to those of lower, working, and middle-class people. Between high rents, historic buildings being torn down for luxury condos and corporate businesses taking their place, artists are among the most frequent demographic group to flee to the next affordable destination. 

And although we’ve seen more avenues for government funding, grants or scholarships increase over the past couple of years for artists in Toronto, it’s simply not enough. Even with these new and old organisations continuing to help foster our creatives, like The Remix Project, Artscape Daniels Launchpad and The Weeknd’s non-profit organisation, HXOUSE, we’re seeing a lack of sustainability. There are just not enough resources to support these members or alumni for the long haul. Often, I hear artists who are a part of these organisations complain about the lack of resources or assistance to help them get to that next level. While some are given the chance to flourish beyond these programmes, others are left to fend for themselves and are right back at square one. The result? A cancerous mentality of gatekeeping, leaving many in our community feeling guarded and bitter.

Which brings me to my next point: community. Toronto seems to think that there can only be one well-known DJ, one stylist, or one singer. This mentality limits what is actually freely available to us – connections with each other. We, the Toronto creative community, need to stop seeing someone else’s success as a threat to ours. We need to stop leading down a road of comparison and envy, which shades the light of day and opportunity for us. It’s time for us to extend our networks and look beyond the hype that unfortunately isn’t making an impact in our city. 

Crossing the border for success | Soho House
Crossing the border for success | Soho House

Being too cool to recognise someone’s talents or drive shows a lack of knowledge and awareness that has caused Toronto to come to a standstill. We tend to miss opportunities for other talents in the city to provide important blueprints in the rise of a solid community. So, stop with the invite-only events. Stop hosting panel discussions by individuals who are unfit for a topic that are chosen based only on their social media popularity or their clout in the city, and start looking at their qualifications.

I can’t help but wonder, how many of us wouldn’t give up on our dreams, or have some game-changing art inside of us that we let die because we live in Toronto? It can seem a bit counterproductive to think the grass is greener on the other side, but as a creative here, that grass is greener and fertilised. Our artists are fighting for recognition and attention in their city and end up realising that their mission is global. When will the days of moving away in order to win respect end and we can start asserting our value within our own city? I don’t know if there are clear-cut roots to these problems, or if the answers are plain on the pages and it’s all there waiting for us to connect the dots. But for now, let’s keep our artists and talent home – move with love, Toronto. 

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