Artists want a storm of colour and light and sound and hope you will come to a community consultation and get soaked.



August 27, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  The natives are restless.  The tom-tom drums are beating.  Smoke clouds are being used to spread the message:

There’s a storm coming – a storm of colour and light and sound. August 28, 6:30pm at the Burlington Art Centre. The City is holding a public consultation for the Cultural Action Plan: come and get soaked, was the language used by the newly formed Artists and Cultural Collective that was organized to ensure that the voice of the people who “do” culture was heard.

Jeremy Freiburger, author of the Cultural Plan for the city has extensive connections within the arts community and is credited with the creation of the Arts Walk in Hamilton. Will his report make it through the city hall bureaucracy?

Burlington got the Cultural Plan they commissioned CoBALT Connects to do for the princely sum of $100,000 +.  Now they are going out to the public for a response.

The Artists Collective has taken exception to the approach the city has put in place – they argue that there isn’t a real, living breathing artist on the Steering Committee, that is conducting the public consultation.  In the past the artists have formed their own small groups and griped or complained about how they were treated. The big dollars and all the energy went into putting up buildings and now we have a Performing Arts Centre that theatre groups can’t afford to use.

City General Manager Kim Phillips, who now has the cultural file on her desk, will need to pull hard in a number of directions to produce a report that satisfies the artists and can get approved by a city council that isn’t big on the arts in general. Lip service is the order of the day for this city when it comes to culture.

The Artists take exception to a situation at  city hall, where people with physical education backgrounds in the Parks and Recreation department oversee culture. The artists feel they are neither heard, understood or represented.  They want to see a change and have set out five points they maintain are essential in any cultural action plan city hall staff send along to Council.

The artists collective has created a bulletin board their members use to communicate electronically and posted five points for their members to consider and take to the public consultation meetings.

The recommendations from the now 200+ strong organization were developed at a number of Town Hall meetings held during the summer when they identified five top goals for any Cultural Action Plan.

The five recommendations from the Collective are:

1. A distinct Arts & Culture department within the City. We require focused leadership for Arts & Culture from within the City to function effectively. This is primarily a restructuring of existing City elements – grouping Art in Public Places, Festivals And Events, Tourism, Teen Tour Band, Student Theatre together – along with 2 FTEs reporting directly to a General Manager within the City by the end of 2014.

One appointed, the head of the new Department – who should be a qualified and experienced Arts & Culture administrator – would have the initial task is to gather input and research towards point 2:

2. A funded external, arm’s-length Arts Council. This is a tricky and key point to moving forward. It requires a balanced representation of Arts & Culture makers in the City and needs to have clear sustainability plan in place in order to succeed. It’s precise role and model would be based on the research, input, and recommendation of the new Arts & Culture department in partnership with the Arts & Culture Collective.

With grassroots support and an infrastructure developed in partnership with the City, this external arm’s-length Council can effectively optimize the Arts & Culture of Burlington. We would look for this plan to be developed over 2014-2015 and receive approval as a part of the 2015 budget.

These two elements – an internal and external organizations – would end the history of isolation and fracturing that has characterized Arts & Culture in Burlington. This partnership could then advocate and address our remaining top concerns in 2015 and beyond.

3. Grants for Arts & Culture makers in the City. Develop a grant program to support Artists and achieve the City’s economic and cultural goals. In order to make this an innovative city investment in Artists are necessary.

4. Space. Spaces for Arts & Culture activities are too expensive and too few – we need significantly better rates, more space for us to realize our aims.

5. Review the Bylaws and Permits. Existing Bylaw and Permit systems are making Arts & Culture events and business ventures prohibitive. Better systems will ensure accessibility for private and public developments.

Laudable and certainly debatable – it will be interesting to hear how the city types responds to these.

Trevor Copp talks with Angela Paparizo during the unveiling of the Spiral Stella at the Performing Arts Centre earlier in the week.

Trevor Copp operates a professional theatre company, Tottering Biped Theatre and was the instigator and prime mover of the Collective.  When he became aware that the city had deferred a meeting to discuss a Cultural Plan it had been holding for some time he started to organize and rally the arts community to present a unified front.

Teresa Seaton, a stained glass artist has been a prime mover behind the annual Art in Action tour – and is now part of the newly formed Arts and Culture Collective.

Copp argues that the arts have never been given the kind of attention they need and that the focus has been on bricks and mortar.  The city currently has one person with training working on the arts file – half time.  Copp sees the Collective as a “common place for the artistic voice of Burlington. Musicians, photographers, visual artists, writers, culinary artists… all are welcome! Consider this the “unofficial Arts Council” board of Burlington!”

Teresa Seaton, a stained glass artist and a long time arts advocate wonders aloud when Burlington can take part in the provincially directed Art Days that take place in many communities across Ontario where a 3 day-long, annual collaborative pan-Canadian volunteer movement takes place pulling together all the cultural threads in a community.

There is some international standard art produced in Burlington – the city is looking for a way to create a Cultural Action Plan to build on the successes. Are the right people in place to do this?

Two years ago the Art in Action people, who hold an annual studio tour were told they had to get a license for each of the studio location the public was invited to tour.  Artists working out of their homes were lumped in with people going door to door selling aluminum siding or driveway sealing services.  The artists felt the city should be encouraging the development of their community rather than seeing them as a source of permit revenue.

The city now has a new Executive Director at the Performing Arts Centre who brings a strong reputation for being able to see the bigger picture and create a sense of community and direction for the arts.  In Kingston where he last served, Brian McCurdy was referred to as the cultural guru; that is certainly something Burlington could use.  The city has never had a clear sense as to what it is culturally.  It seemed to feel that once the Performing Arts Centre was built the job was done – the artists have organized themselves to tell the city that art and culture is not about buildings – it is about people expressing themselves through different art forms – not something that comes easily to a city that grew out of farm land that produced apples, pears and peppers.

Burlington has been the soil from which very significant groups have emerged – but they left town just as soon as they had strong enough legs to get to the GO station.  From time to time they come back and entertain us.  Copp would like to change that and hopes he can be part of a movement that makes it possible for artists to earn a living here – now.

For its part city hall wants to now create a Cultural Action Plan that it can take to Council.  Staff wants to produce a document that includes a vision, leadership, communication, cultural nodes, local investment, including support for individual artists and emerging organizations and events along with some way to measure the results of the city’s efforts.

What bothers the artists is that the people heading up the public consultations are not artists – they are bureaucrats who, the Artists Collective don’t feel understand how art works and what it needs to be grown.

The city has organized two public meetings; one at the Burlington Art Centre this evening and a second meeting at Tansley Woods on Thursday, September 12, Community Rooms 2 and 3.

These are going to be interesting meetings.

The results will go to a Council meeting in October – at a time when council members are beginning to hunker down for the municipal election in 2014.  This Council couldn’t agree on creating bike lanes on Lakeshore Road and wasn’t able to get a private tree bylaw in place because they felt it offended too many people.

If they couldn’t muster the courage to save the trees – is there hope for the artists?

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