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About This Festival

Electrifying A City

As its name implies, Luminato Festival: Toronto’s Festival of Arts and Creativity, is about light, and shedding the stuff on the city of Toronto. But really, it’s about enlightenment, about a greater understanding of our shared humanity through exposure to myriad forms of art and culture. It will celebrate the electrical vibrancy of an evolving metropolis at what was once literally the source of that energy: the Hearn Generating Station, a massive shrine to an industrial era now repurposed as a focal point of this citywide event.

For 10 days in June, hundreds of Toronto’s spaces — theaters, parks and less conventional spots — fill with performing, visual, literary and culinary arts presentations. A hybrid of populist street fair and highbrow contemporary art, the festival seeks out creative innovators and the city welcomes them; like Bumbershoot on steroids, Luminato draws about 800,000 attendees from all over the world for free and ticketed events exemplifying the festival’s three pillars: collaboration, accessibility and diversity. Dance, music, film, theater, book readings, magic shows, food and other sense-stimulating offerings are always on offer, along with a visual-art project that will turn the city into a giant outdoor gallery, according to Weisbrodt (husband of frequent performer Rufus Wainwright). Whatever it is, it always has to be one amazing undertaking. The first year, the city’s harbor-front skyline filled with light powered by viewers’ heartbeats.


Luminato Festival was the brainchild of Tony Gagliano and the late David Pecaut. An American-born “civic entrepreneur,” Pecaut knew how to unite disparate groups into partnerships and turn ideas into actions. After the SARS virus outbreak devastated the city’s tourism industry and its spirit, he and Gagliano, CEO of a communications firm, hatched a plan to bring both back via the Luminato Festival. In 2011, the city renamed its Metro Square after him.

This is no mere arts and crafts fair, that’s for sure. That inaugural year, 2007, also featured events such as Book of Longing, a theatrical work for which Leonard Cohen’s poems were set to music by composer Philip Glass. World-premiere performances of plays, operas, films, major art commissions and installations and tributes to legends occur every year; in 2015, David Byrne presented Contemporary Color, a “pep rally/pop-music mashup” featuring 10 high-school color-guard teams performing routines alongside St. Vincent, Lucius, Ira Glass, tUnE-yArDs and other top performers. That year also marked the Canadian debut of Unsound, the electronic and experimental music festival founded in Krakow, Poland.

In 2014, Wainwright world-premiered If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway, a collaboration with World Pride, which took place that year in Toronto. A Brazilian guitar marathon and Neil Young tribute featuring the Cowboy Junkies, Colin Linden, Holly Cole, the Bill Frisell Trio and other renowned Canadian artists were among 2013’s highlights.

Balancing Act

Festival marquees boast international premieres, but Toronto-based arts organizations also benefit from funding set aside to bring big bangs to the event. And festival-goers do, too; free Cirque du Soleil performances helped send its 2009 attendance over the 1 million mark. At the five-year mark, more than half of the festival’s funding was government-sourced; approximately 37 percent was raised from corporate sponsors and donors, and about 10 percent from ticket sales. A large chunk of government funding is dedicated to securing first rights to artistic events and performances. As one Toronto Globe & Mail story noted, the festival philosophy, as cued by Pecaut, is “go big or go home.”

For Weisbrodt, who stepped down after 2015's festival, it all boils down to “creating adventurous art and ideas in adventurous places; bringing people together, making the moment special and taking the ‘everyday’ out of everyday life.”

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