Key Points Summary

Lua Shayenne Dance Company performs in Flemingdon Park, photo by Sean Howard (2016)

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Arts Access in Parks  |  Planning  |  Parks Meet Art  |  Partnerships  |  Fundraising  |  Outreach and Engagement  |  Communications  |  Evaluation  |  Conclusion

Arts in the Parks (AITP) is an annual summer-long, inclusive arts initiative that takes place in an average of 32 parks per year across Toronto. Arts in the Parks is a strategic initiative of Toronto Arts Foundation in partnership with Toronto Arts Council, City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department, and Park People, a national advocacy organization. The involvement of these four key partners has brought important expertise to the table and helped strengthen the initiative.

AITP supports events that are free and family-friendly, including theatre, music concerts, film nights and creative workshops for community members. It promotes community-building and encourages local residents to enjoy parks in a new manner. Artists benefit too! With performance and exhibition space in Toronto becoming increasingly expensive and scarce, this initiative provides a partial solution. Arts in the Parks also positions artists as the producers of their events, which encourages artistic excellence and builds production skills. Artists are offered guidance on selecting the park most suited to their programming, how to navigate the often-confusing permitting process, and how to get people out to their event.

Drawing on our Arts in the Parks experience, Toronto Arts Foundation has created this toolkit to help community organizations and municipalities look at the big ideas and the small details that go into planning and producing arts events in parks.

Arts Access in Parks

Concern about the scarcity and lack of affordability of arts space is almost universal across cities, towns, and rural communities in Canada. For many people, arts and culture venues are too far away from where they live, or too expensive. Others haven’t felt welcome or represented. These dynamics create barriers to arts access. By investing in arts programming in public spaces, we can make more synergistic use of our public assets. Opening parks to arts programming allows municipalities to leverage new investment and increase arts access and means every neighbourhood can experience the arts.

While the Arts in the Parks program invests funding and resources directly into artists and arts organizations all across the city of Toronto, we intentionally invest in those artists, organizations and communities who, despite a prolonged lack of resources due to historical and geographical barriers, have been developing cultural and social infrastructure in the inner suburbs. We recognize the value of Toronto’s inner suburbs (Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough) as centres of arts and cultural activity.

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 not only to have greater arts access but new experiences of art.

Featuring a variety of arts disciplines and event formats, AITP provides audiences a choice of how to interact with the arts: as an audience member, by getting involved in the art making or, in one case, helping generate the power needed to amplify a concert by riding stationary bicycles connected to a generator.

Arts access is at the core of Toronto Arts Council and Toronto Arts Foundation’s shared vision: Creative City Block-by-Block. TAC and TAF are redefining what creative cities can be by putting equitable access to the arts at the forefront of our mission, through programs that promote community-building and encourage local residents and artists to see their parks in new, creative and inviting ways.


Creating a plan is a key part of a successful event. Start well in advance and be prepared to make changes along the way as you find out more information about the location and the artists involved. When developing a production plan, some basic considerations go along with producing an event, particularly one taking place outdoors. The length of your timeline and amount of resources needed will differ greatly depending on the scale of your event; for example, a summer long festival compared to a weekend celebration. Key parts of a plan include:

  1. Creating a Timeline
  2. Picking a Location
  3. Working with Artists
  4. Human Resources
  5. Outreach and Promotion
  6. Permits, Insurance and Regulations
  7. Dealing with Weather and Emergencies

There are many ways to make a plan. Use examples of other plans to get ideas but make sure your plan works for you and your community.

Parks Meet Art

Parks selected for events have an integral role in the success of the event. Each park has different features and its own character, which provide unique opportunities for cultural placemaking. The tangible and intangible elements of each site affect what happens in the space, who enters the space and how the space is used. It’s possible you will have to compete with other events and other stakeholders, such as local recreational sports teams.

The following elements play an important role in determining which parks are suitable for which arts activities:

  • Natural Terrain
  • Built Structures
  • Washrooms and Drinking Water
  • Parking
  • Park Size and Signage and Wayfinding
  • Accessibility

Numerous factors – including built form, amenities, community and stakeholder engagement, park staff buy-in – determine if an event will be successful. Arts events should be highly site-specific and community-engaged. Stakeholders should be brought on board for planning and partnership-building from the beginning of the process. Consider what artists and staff might need to be successful and what attendees might need to enjoy the event. Anticipating people’s needs and taking care of everyone involved is a great operating principle.


Developing a diversity of partnerships is key to the success of presenting arts programming in parks. Partners can bring resources to the table such as permitting, funding, sponsorship, in-kind material donations, community engagement, marketing and promotion, and much more. Be open to collaboration with local organizations, BIAs, politicians, businesses, and community members. Successful partnerships are reciprocal, built one step at a time, and require clear communication and shared visions and objectives.

Key stakeholders in a public arts initiative are: artists and arts organizations, funders, municipal or regional governments, community agencies and services, and community members.

Building partnerships takes time, sensitivity and respect. Partnering with government can bring both financial and in-kind resource investment to your project. Partnering with community agencies allows for community buy-in and audience development. Working with artists requires respect for their skills and time and openness to change and experimentation. Support from politicians, municipal staff, and park staff in the planning process and during the event can be invaluable to your project.

An effective way of identifying potential organizations, agencies and individuals to collaborate with is to build a list by mapping the spaces, people, organizations, businesses, and communities that may benefit from and contribute to your initiative.

Mapping potential partners/spaces/people:

  • Who manages the resources and services necessary to initiate the program?
  • Who has the expertise and knowledge you are missing?
  • Who has connections to communities you would like to engage (e.g. artists, local residents, etc.)?
  • Who would be an asset to the initiative?
  • Who would benefit from the initiative?
  • Who is offering to contribute resources?

Identify shared goals:

  • What are your organization’s strategic goals and objectives and how does the initiative fulfill them?
  • The goals and objectives of what other organizations might be met, and how?
  • How will the initiative impact the future of your organization and that of the  partners?
  • What is the impact of the project on your organization and your partners’ interests?
  • Do your partners want to be involved in designing evaluation tools?
  • Will you share the evaluation results with your partners?


Raising money is a vital part of any arts initiative. What’s important is to find the fundraising methods that work best for you. Remember that arts in parks often has funder and donor appeal where the events are free and this is seen as a community benefit. Keep in mind, however, that restrictions on signage in parks may require creative or alternative solutions to acknowledge sponsors.

There are numerous ways to fundraise and find sources of revenue, including:

  • Individual Donations and Crowdfunding
  • Corporate Sponsorship
  • Foundation Grants
  • Government Grants
  • In-Kind Support
  • Fundraising Events

Fundraising is about relationship building, mutual benefit and shared vision. For inspiration, look at what others have done in your region for fundraising and budgeting and see how their successful strategies can be integrated into your own. Build a fundraising strategy that best suits the size and scale of your initiative and that you feel confident you can achieve. Make it artful and inviting. Also make sure you can deliver and document any requested or agreed-upon visibility for funders and sponsors.

Outreach and Engagement

The best community outreach and engagement strategies are an extension of the creative practice, not just a marketing campaign. Community outreach should be initiated from the beginning rather than when you feel ready to launch, and your community engagement should act as an invitation not only to join you on the day of the event but to collaborate in the project’s development. Think of the invitation as the beginning of relationship-building, each step of which is part of a collaborative artistic creation process. Your invitation to the community should be artistically devised, warm, welcoming, inclusive, accessible and fun.

Ways to effect community engagement:

  1. Determine the organizations, agencies, services and community groups operating in the area.
  2. Research the neighbourhood history and demographics.
  3. Ensure you develop protocols that respect, and share the spotlight with, local community organizers and artists.
  4. Develop artful and fun ways to invite local community members to attend or participate.
  5. Pay attention to the way the local community communicates important events: it may be through social media channels, through a community newsletter or through a less common community messaging system.

Think about what you could do to encourage people to attend and ways you can reach out so people feel welcome. You can better understand barriers to attendance by consulting widely with different community members.


Getting the word out about your event is important but not always easy. Think of how to promote both passively and actively.

Passive promotion means putting your information out for others to come across as they are reading the newspaper, scrolling online or moving about in the community. Information posted on your website, an ad in a newspaper or posters in the community can be effective in creating visibility about your event but you have less control over who is getting the information. Posters should catch the eye and prominently feature the date, time and location. We’ve found that information on bulletin boards at community centres and agencies or a pile of flyers at the local library are good ways to reach people at a local level.

Active promotion means targeting your promotion to the people you want to attract to the event. If you have lots of person power, you can organize door-to-door campaigns or attend community events like Farmers’ Markets or community BBQs to inform people about the event in-person. Consider having a presence in the park prior to the event so you can raise public interest and people can ask questions about what will be happening.


Ongoing evaluation can be an effective tool for long term sustainability. It serves your mission and goals and your ability to attract resources in the future. The best time to think about evaluating your project is at the planning stage. When you envision the event and are thinking of your desired outcomes, ask yourself, “How will we know if we’ve met our goals?”.

The effort to evaluate a project or activity is well worth the information you will get out, and an evaluation plan can be simple and tailored to the resources of your organization. Evaluation will help you to:

  • Better understand how different people experience the activity
  • Think of ways to improve your next event
  • Focus on what’s working and what’s not
  • Share your findings with stakeholders including funders

Steps in an evaluation plan include:

  1. Identify project objectives, indicators and stakeholders  
  2. Assess evaluation resources
  3. Decide on evaluation methods and tools
  4. Gather data and analyze information
  5. Create report, distribute and next steps (or recommendations)

Evaluation is a cyclical process. Each step builds on the one that came before it. We start by articulating our objectives, identifying stakeholders, and seeking input into the evaluation plan. Along the way we figure out the right questions, how best to gather information, and slowly the program impact emerges. When we have the full picture we can create a report. The contents of the report can be used for arts advocacy, fundraising, and promotion. It is also a useful planning tool to help improve the next event or project. In this way the circle is complete and the end becomes the next beginning.


Arts in the Parks is a work in progress, and each year the feedback we receive from evaluations helps us make improvements and embrace new ideas. In 2018, TAF launched a Local Artist Spotlight Program, providing opportunities for local emerging artists, primarily youth, to perform before a main Arts in the Park event. The Local Artist Spotlight Program provides paid performance experience, generates collaborative opportunities, and deepens the connection between the presenting artists and the community.

Each year when the summer arrives, arts will take to the parks and community members will come out to see what is happening. The arts have much to offer communities: they bring people together and offer opportunities to engage in ideas and to experience spaces transformed by beauty. The Arts in the Parks program encourages people to explore their own creativity, enjoy park spaces in a new way, and enliven their neighbourhoods and their lives.