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Dark Days for Toronto’s Live Music Venues: New Study Finds Venues at Risk of Closure

By: Staff –

TORONTO, ON – JUNE 20: Death Cab For Cutie performs at Echo Beach in Toronto on June 20, 2019. (Photo: Joanna Glezakos/Aesthetic Magazine)

A new study measuring the economic and cultural impact of Toronto’s live music venues was released today at a virtual news conference by the City of Toronto and the Canadian Live Music Association.

The long-awaited study entitled Re:Venues: A Case and Path Forward for Toronto’s Live Music Industry, outlines the contributions and status of the industry and includes recommendations for actions needed to support and protect live music venues through this economic uncertainty and beyond.

“Toronto’s live music venues contribute greatly to the city’s cultural, social and economic fabric but these venues require critical support in the face of ongoing pressures that have been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic”, said Mayor John Tory. “This long-awaited study has confirmed the vital role the industry plays in our city and the commitment to supporting them not only through this pandemic but afterwards.  I want to thank all the partners involved in helping us bring this study forward and for realizing the need for real support for artists and the music venues they rely on.”

Conducted by Nordicity, the study finds that live music venues in Toronto generate a total economic impact of $850 million annually, while providing the equivalent of 10,500 full-time jobs.  Labour income generated by the operations and tourism impacts of Toronto’s live music venues total $514 million each year.  The report emphasizes the importance of live music venues to the city’s economy and calls attention to the key role these establishments play in a thriving music ecosystem.

“This powerful research helps us to tell the story of our precious live music venues and why we need to act, now, to ensure their future – for both artists and fans,” says  Erin Benjamin, president & CEO, Canadian Live Music Association. “We call on policymakers, industry and advocacy groups to prioritize the report recommendations, and to lend their voice to an industry in dire need of support.”

Each venue that closes costs an average of $575,000 in annual GDP contributions, and $148,000 in provincial and federal taxes.  Since March 2020, Nordicity estimates the shutdown of music venues in Toronto cost the city’s economy $99M in GPP, the equivalent of 1,480 jobs.

“Toronto’s internationally renowned live music scene is an economic powerhouse and one of the most important elements of our cultural identity – today, it is also under threat,” says Canadian Live Music Association Board Chair and CEO of The Corporations of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall, Jesse Kumagai. “Venues were closing their doors before the pandemic and we are now losing important cultural institutions at an alarming rate with no end in sight.  We can stop the trend, but we need to act now”.

The critical areas of need vary across immediate, short and long-term recommendations, but given the immense urgency, the Nordicity report concentrates on immediate, short and medium term recommendations via eight categories.        

Each of the eight categories quantify actionable items the industry should adopt to survive the current crisis,  rebuild the industry’s foundation, and to sustain and grow the sector:

  • Reimagine programs to address immediate needs protecting against the loss of cultural infrastructure
    Adjust existing emergency programs to make it mandatory for property owners to access the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) to ensure music venues receive rent reduction benefits.

  • Spearhead a group insurance program tailored to live music venues
    Establish a group insurance plan tailored to the unique needs of live music venues to address cost escalations that inhibit the ability of venues to renew liability insurance.

  • Ensure permanent benefits of tax classification for venues to lessen the burden of escalating property taxes
    The study calls on the City of Toronto to maintain a mechanism to protect music venues from increasing property values and property tax assessment.

  • Identify funds that could be redirected to support cultural infrastructure
    Expand or redirect existing funding to include live music venues to provide more long-term support as emergency COVID-19 funding ends.

  • Streamline permitting and amendment processes
    The report recommends that a move to digitization for the applications of business licences would help to alleviate significant delays in securing approvals, which are barriers to entry for new businesses.

  • Develop a Canadian Live Music Fund to stimulate event activity and ensure the future viability and success of Canada’s live music sector and drive economic impact
    Dedicate permanent funding to provide support for live music venues beyond the emergency period and for the foreseeable future.

  • Develop a Section 37 guide to help councillors prioritize gaps in the city’s music venue ecosystem
    Section 37 permits the City of Toronto to authorize increases to permitted height and or/ density of a development. The report calls for a prioritization of provisions to the zoning bylaws to better accommodate venues within this framework.

  • Establish opportunities for business education among venue owners
    Provide ongoing business skill training through permanent programming presented in partnership with the Canadian Live Music Association, The City of Toronto and other partners such as Destination Toronto and Ontario Creates.

“The venue study and recommendations are coming at a critical time,” adds Mark Garner chief operating officer, Downtown Yonge BIA. “The Canadian Live Music Association and the other stakeholders participating in this project have quantified the economic contribution of our live music venues and we look forward to their continued leadership as we move forward in our support of this vital industry.”

The actions identified in the report for Toronto, Canada’s largest city and a world leader in entertainment will have implications for the industry across the country.  In 2019, 107,000 individual artists performed at venues in Toronto alone.

“Live music venues provide essential career stepping stones for emerging artists,” says Tracy Jenkins, operator of Lula Lounge. “The ecosystem of creators, enterprises and service providers these venues support is linked not only to our thriving local economy but is at the heart of the cultural life of our proudly diverse city”.

The development of a sustainable, healthy music industry is critical to the countless Canadians who benefit both culturally and financially from this sector.


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