Why Arts Outdoors is Important

Jump to Section:
Evisioning Arts in Parks  |  Parks as Meeting and Cultural Spaces  |  Getting Started  |  Focus on Goals  |  Working with Artists  |  Community-Engaged Arts  |  Imagine your Audience  

Envisioning Arts in Parks

Known as the “City within a Park”, Toronto is recognized internationally for its more than 8,000 hectares of parkland and over 1600 parks which are a diverse network of ravines, sports fields, recreation trails and neighbourhood parks of all shapes and sizes.

Parks are democratic spaces – they are free to all, reflect the demographic diversity of our city and are places for social and cultural interaction. Parks play a variety of functions: for those who live in small apartments, parks are open spaces good for reading and relaxing; for those who love nature but don’t have a garden, parks are an oasis of flowers, bushes and trees. Arts and culture programs presented in parks – children’s art classes, concerts, exhibitions and art installations – are opportunities for the public to have greater arts access.

Ninety-four percent of Torontonians who responded to a survey about the arts in 2016 saw a personal benefit to having art in public spaces. The  city’s 2013-2017 Parks Plan found that 93% of Torontonians strongly agree that parks and trails are vital city infrastructure.[1] Putting these two great strengths together has enabled TAC and TAF to imagine how parks could become arts venues.

The most common benefit Torontonians see from having arts in parks is that the experience is free. Other benefits include being introduced to new kinds art experiences and viewing or interacting with art in a less formal setting. Art in public spaces helps people feel more connected to their city and since there are parks all over the city, it’s never very far to travel for an arts experience in a park.

There are many ways that arts activities add to the quality of life of individuals and communities including:

  • Bringing neighbours together
  • Celebrating community history
  • Encouraging creativity in young people
  • Addressing social isolation of seniors

Parks as Meeting and Cultural Spaces

According to Coleman Canada’s 2017 Outdoor Report, nearly two-thirds of Canadians (64%) enjoy the open-air less than two hours per week, despite nearly all respondents acknowledging that being outdoors has many health benefits including enhancing overall well-being (98%) and reducing stress (95%). In addition to missing out on these benefits, those who don’t spend time in parks miss out on numerous community activities offered outside.

In creating Arts in the Parks, one of our key objectives was to attract people to their local parks and help residents see their park in a new light. 


  • 78% live in the same region of the city where the activity took place
  • 68% agree the arts activity changed the way they see the park
  • 79% agree they will return to the park for other activities

Arts in the Parks Evaluation Report 2018

Artists who have participated in the program have embraced the challenges of working outdoors and finding new ways to draw audiences in. Some artists approach the work as a form of conversation, seeing attendees not as passive spectators but active creators. For example, some projects invite attendees to learn drumming techniques or help assemble a mural or participate in a processional theatre production.

Attracting residents to the park can be greatly improved by the support and on-the-ground knowledge of community organizers. These groups help spread the word in the community which helps bring out the audience. In return, the program helps local organizers to begin to see new possibilities for their local parks and envision more arts activities in their area.

An example of a group that has helped promote Arts in the Parks is Flemingdon Community Support Services. Here is how they see outreach:

Outreach is a term that can be deceiving. It presumes an “insider” group that’s trying to reach people who are “outsiders.” A better approach, and one championed by Nawal Ateeq, Chair of Flemingdon Community Support Services, is to consider everyone in your community (and beyond) to be “insiders”–they just may not know it yet.

Nawal’s group is interwoven into the web of neighbourhood connections that help serve the needs of the many Toronto newcomer communities that call Flemingdon Park their home. Flemingdon is a highly diverse neighbourhood in Toronto’s North York populated by a number of tower communities. 

Park People website


Community Organizers

  • 75% feel inspired to do more in their parks
  • 67% said Arts in the Parks changed their perspective on possibilities for their parks
  • 67% said Arts in the Parks provided them with skills and knowledge to continue to animate their parks with arts

Arts in the Parks Evaluation 2018 Report

Getting Started

Your first step in presenting arts in a park is to craft your vision and objectives. This will guide you, ground your decision making, and let you know how you are doing every step of the project. Here are some questions to ask at the beginning of the project:

Programming outdoors:

  • Why the outdoors?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What do you hope might be the outcome of the program?
  • How does the outdoors add to the event?

Scale and frequency of the event:

  • To celebrate an important anniversary?
  • Be an annual event?
  • Be a special event that doesn’t have to be repeated?

Finding resources:

  • What kinds of outdoor spaces are available?
  • Where might funding or donations come from to cover cost of the event(s)?  
  • What resources (organizations and people) would get behind this idea?
  • Who will be the lead organization(s)?

Focus on Goals

Keep your goals front and centre from beginning to end as they will drive all the choices you make. For example: Do you want to make the event financially accessible to more people by removing the barrier of a ticket price? Your vision will determine how you select a location and artists, and will provide guidelines or benchmarks for how to promote and evaluate your event. When it’s all over, it is your objectives you will return to in order to determine if the event has met your objectives.

Options that can be decided based on your vision include: 

  • Admission: free, pay what you can or a ticket price
  • Artists: local or from outside the region/area, or both
  • Audience/Content: family-friendly, child focused, youth focused or adult focused
  • Art Format: presentation, audience participation, or opportunities for attendees to learn arts skills
  • Audience Format: seated or standing
  • Stages: one stage, multiple stages, or no stages

Working with Artists

Knowing your goals will help you decide on the artists you want to work with. Do you want to attract a large audience? Do you want to support local artists? Do you want to encourage new and emerging talent? Or a combination of approaches?

In 2018, Arts in the Parks chose to highlight local artists living in or near selected parks. The position of Community Engagement Coordinator was introduced to work with artists and community organizers to identify local artists to be opening acts at events. This helped to spread to word about Arts in the Parks and got more people interested in the initiative.

Animating Toronto Parks funds community-engaged artists. These projects invite community members to participate in the creative process in the days and weeks before the performance or arts installation opening. Community-engaged projects have been very popular in Arts in the Parks locations. 

Community-Engaged Arts

Community-engaged arts practice is defined by the Ontario Arts Council as “collaborative creative processes that involve professional artists and social institutions, grassroots groups or individuals.”

Community-engaged arts practices and approaches include:

  • Understanding that community members have important skills and lived experience to bring to the collaboration.
  • An environment of reciprocity and exchange from which the artists and community participants mutually benefit.
  • Recognition of the contribution of community participants to the artistic creation process.
  • Time, labour and flexibility to attend to the relationships.
  • Adequate time and staffing (which are crucial to success).

Imagine your Audience

When you picture the event who do you see in the audience? How will you know what audiences think? How will you get feedback from the audience?



  • 82% of attendees agree that experiencing Arts in the Parks increases their interest in attending or participating in more arts activities (2018)
  • 88% of attendees agree that events like Arts in the Parks create a greater sense of community (2016)
  • 33% of audience members attend because it helps them feel connected to their neighbourhood (2017) 
  • 43% of audience members attend because it’s free (2018)
  • 44% of audience members attend because it’s an opportunity to spend time with family and friends (2018)

Arts in the Parks Evaluation Reports 2016 - 2018







We promote Arts in the Parks as a family-friendly event. People of all ages attend though they are most commonly between the ages of 35-54 (36%). Most attendees come as a result of making a specific plan, but others are “just passing by” and decide to check out what’s happening. The sight of stilt walkers and the sounds of drumming combined with a parade of people in bright costumes is enough to lure bicyclists, dog walkers and those out for a stroll over to the performance.

The majority of attendees live in or near the neighbourhood where the activity is taking place, which is meeting the AITP objective of making the arts accessible at a local level. Other attendees come from across the city, some from cities close to Toronto and a few are tourists from across Canada plus a handful of international guests. This information is gathered by volunteers who distribute and collect audience surveys.