A Toronto-Edinburgh Exchange on Culture and Economic Development

In February 2013, MDB Insight collaborated with InclusionUS to organize a study visit from the City of Edinburgh to learn about Toronto’s approach to culture-led economic development. There were many productive meetings with a range of agencies and stakeholders in Toronto. A highlight was a meeting with staff from the City of Toronto’s Department of Economic Development and Culture. From a planning and policy perspective, forging closer connections between culture and economic development is still an emerging municipal agenda in Edinburgh. City officials were interested in learning from Toronto’s experience integrating the two.

A focus of discussion was Creative Capital Gains: An Action Plan for Toronto, a cultural plan completed by the City of Toronto in 2011 with a strong focus on growing the creative cultural industries and advancing a culture-led economic development agenda in Toronto. From the perspective of our Edinburgh visitors, the plan also highlights major increased in private sector support for the arts and culture in Toronto over the past decade. We learned that in Edinburgh, and in Scotland more broadly, cultural organizations remain significantly more dependent on public sector support. With these funds in decline, mobilizing private sector giving has become critical.

Based on the success of the visit, a return visit was organized in February 2014 to carry some of what was learned in Toronto back to agencies and key stakeholders in Edinburgh. I was fortunate enough to be part of this delegation. Throughout the week, the key concept of integrated cultural and economic development strategies was work-shopped with Edinburgh City Council and staff and creative industries and cultural sector stakeholders. The week concluded with a one-day symposium Cultural Planning, Creative Industries and City Development: The Toronto Experience convened by Napier University’s School of Arts and Creative Industries.

While the Toronto delegation was able to bring valuable and relevant ideas and experience to Edinburgh, we also learned about a number of ways in which our Scottish colleagues were ‘ahead’ in modeling progressive approaches to cultural and economic development. One of the most powerful was the extent to which the not-for-profit arts and commercial creative industries are coming to be seen as an integrated sector. Creative Edinburgh is a local creative industries networking group that draws its members from both arts groups and commercial enterprises. Creative Scotland, the national funding body equivalent to our Canada Council for the Arts in Canada, supports both the arts and creative industries. The divide between the not-for-profit and for-profit parts of the cultural sector in Canada is one that continues to bedevil progress in cultural development locally, provincially and nationally.

MDB Insight was pleased to have played a leadership role in both visits. The experience demonstrated the tremendous value to be drawn from cross-border dialogue and exchange.