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billboard tax toronto

A simple billboard tax generated $100 million to make Toronto more beautiful

Not many would think of billboards as the type of thing that can make a city more beautiful, but that's precisely the case in Toronto.

It isn't the direct impact of the sprawling ads themselves, but their indirect contribution through (reluctantly) funding public art programs in the city.

Somehow, these large, intrusive advertisements add to Toronto's broader visual appeal despite their unsightly qualities.

A tax on outdoor advertising to generate public art funding didn't come easy.

It was 20 years ago this week that a fee on billboards to fund public art was first introduced at Creative City Youth Consultations, getting the ball rolling for a drawn-out process that involved debates and legal battles.

Leading the charge, over 60 organizations banded together to form an alliance known as BeautifulCity.ca, which spent years battling to get the tax on outdoor ads passed.

The City eventually passed billboard tax regulations in 2009, and though the billboard industry would initiate a lawsuit fighting the tax the following year, the tax was ultimately upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2012.

Since the tax went into effect, it has created a dependable revenue stream for the funding of art projects across the city, contributing to a near doubling of the Toronto Arts Council's budget.

By 2017, Toronto had reportedly collected close to $70 million in billboard taxes funding public art, a number which is estimated to have risen to above $100 million by 2021, which just happens to be Toronto's Year of Public Art.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the billboard tax for art's initial proposal, BeautifulCity.ca has created a quick video detailing the history of the tax and what it's helped accomplish in Toronto.

The billboard tax is just one way the city now harnesses private investment to create funding for public art.

The Percent for Public Art Program (as the name implies) mandates projects to set aside 1 per cent of their development costs toward public art, which is why just about every new condo tower has some quirky art piece at its base.

Lead photo by

Bruce Reeve


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