Profit vs non-profit for movie nights in Toronto parks

1:04, Oct. 6, 2017. Will Dufferin Grove Park be one of the parks to hold open-air movie nights under the new Arts in the Park permit in the summer of 2018? (Photo credit: Colleen Hale-Hodgson)

Oct. 6, 2017

City council approved changes to park permits at council this week, opening the door to make movie nights in parks easier to organize.

The changes mean organizers won’t need to partner with a non-profit organization, which has been a barrier for the Arts in the Park category previously.

“A musician or a performance artist who just wanted to do an act of art or culture in a park wasn’t able to do so without finding a non-profit organization to support them,” city spokesperson for parks permits Matthew Cutler said in an interview in June, when the issue was originally before the council.

“This permit category is designed for small gatherings of community focused on an arts and culture experience.”

It’s good news for organizers who can find sponsors that value having their logo on the sign that promotes the event. Under the new permit category, up to 50 per cent of the sign can have the logo, whereas previously only 20 per cent was allowed.

But some think that a closer look at the rules should be taken. “Whenever the sign bylaw comes up at standing committee or council, there’s a lot of very strong feelings about the level of advertising and the type of advertising that should be permitted on city property,” Shawna Teper, executive assistant to Shelley Carroll, said in an interview in the spring. “If there’s advertising at a community event in a City of Toronto park, similarly there should be some analysis of the type of advertising and level that is permitted.”

There is also concern over who, exactly, will reap potential profit, if any, from organizing movie nights. “You could have some person go, ‘I want to put on a movie night,’ and they get a whole bunch of businesses and they turn it into their business of putting on movie nights everywhere,” said Todd Hofley president of the Liberty Village Residents’ Association, veteran organizer of movie nights in Liberty Village, in an interview in the spring. “[With non-profits] it’s not a private person making money off a public asset,” Hofley said.

Mayor John Tory told reporters this week he doesn’t mind if an individual can make a profit organizing cultural events as long as it doesn’t result in “huge logos” all over parks. However, Tory was careful to draw attention to the case-by-case nature of the new system. “The future of this city is being built on ideas of entrepreneurs and artists, and so we’re streamlining our permit system, but there is still a permit system,” Tory said. “So somebody’s at the other end of that application making a judgement, which I hope is done in a sound way to determine what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”

Councillor Sarah Doucette agrees that the city needs to be careful about the amount of advertising, but has seen how outdoor movies affect those that participate. When asked to describe an event, Doucette touted the benefits of it being free, and described what typically happens. “It’s [about] coming out and sitting with other residents on a blanket,” she said. “The kids get in their pyjamas before they even show up. It’s exciting [for them]. They’re allowed to stay up late. Most of them have already seen the same movie… it doesn’t matter, they sing along. It’s a community gathering.”

Other councillors take a different tack about how loud movie nights change the nature of the parks. “We need public places where people can engage casually as a neighbourhood,” Councillor Gord Perks said in an interview in the spring. “Converting our parks to places where for-profit businesses get to advertise and make money off of public spaces means we lose that very valuable neighbourhood function for parks.”