On 30 September 2016, news quietly dropped that a $10,000 painting had been hung by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in the private washroom of Principal Lorraine Linton of Humberside Collegiate Institute. While the CBC and Toronto Star were busy investigating why it was placed in the washroom, a more important question surfaced: Why does the TDSB even own a $10 000 piece of art? The TDSB has been plagued by budget shortfalls and repair backlogs for years. Surely they have a better use for $10 000 than to lock it up in art?
If it were an educational masterpiece, perhaps the cost could be justified. However, it can be only viewed in the principal’s lavatory, isolated from both students and staff. And this isn’t the only painting that the TDSB owns. At one point, they had a $1.5 million Tom Thompson painting hanging in an administrator’s office! In total, the board owns over 7 000 works of fine art, with a total value of over $7 million.  Believe it or not, they have so many pieces that they even use a special warehouse to store them all. No wonder there is a lack of public sympathy for the TDSB’s budgetary qualms.
In the top-secret vault where these artworks are located, exact storage conditions are unknown. However, many paintings leave the warehouse in worse shape, often due to accidents. So many paintings have been damaged, that the TDSB has had to partner with the Art Gallery of Ontario to restore them. This process is ongoing and expensive. When Cranberry Lake, a 1936 John Carmichael painting, was damaged by a burst steam pipe, the Board had to shell out $10 000 for its restoration.
So, why does the TDSB own all these works? It can’t be for investment purposes, since that is not the mandate of the board. It can’t be for educational purposes, since most of these works are locked up or being restored. These paintings can’t exactly be brought into the classroom, because students can hardly be trusted to handle a million dollar painting with enough care.
According to TDSB Superintendent John Chasty, the only reason the board has these paintings is because they are not the TDSB’s to sell. They belong “to the future generations of [the TDSB’s] students, to the city of Toronto.” Huh? Logically then, they are not the TDSB’s to keep either, but rather for the city and its citizens.
When there is a school repair backlog of over $1.2 billion, Mr. Chasty’s questionable logic should not be the basis of the TDSB’s hoarding problem-especially when the board has shown that it cannot properly care for the artwork. There are more pressing matters, such as collapsing roofs, lead pipes, and a lack of proper climate control systems in schools.
It’s time that the Toronto District School Board stop amassing fine art and free up that money to work for its students. Sell the art to the city. Sell it to Torontonians. After all, it belongs to us, not a bureaucratic board with a hoarding addiction.
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