Burlington taking a $100,000 deep look into CULTURE. Will we see a black hole or a rainbow?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  June 4, 2012  Is that culture with a K Sir ?– and would you like fries on the side?

Just what is culture?  There is a gang of guys that meets at  the Queen’s Head on Friday’s  for games of pool and conversation – they’ve been doing that for years.  This city has numerous Bible Study groups, a number of book reading clubs.  The crowd that gathers at the Legion for Fish and Chips on Friday – does they  constitute culture?  Or is it just “the arts” that are culture.

Is this culture or is it craft and does it make a difference which it is?

Burlington has realized that culture is business – big business of you do it right.  The Sound of Music is said the bring $4million to the city (we would like to see how THAT number was arrived at); The Burlington Arts Centre will have 100 artisans selling their wares later this month and Art in Action will be holding a Silent auction at which 36 artists will put their work up for sale with the proceeds going to fund two scholarships.

Lots going on – but does the city really have a handle on the cultural file and are we making the most of the opportunity?  Sometime back the city became aware of some provincial funding that was available for the development of cultural plans and decided to add funds of their own to the pot and is using the $100,000 to develop a Cultural Plan for the city.

During the first cut of the idea that was made to a Council workshop Jeremy Freiburger, the cultural honcho behind the drive, was asked by Councillor Meed Ward – what is culture.  Like beauty – it is in the eye of the beholder.  That and $5.00 and you’ve got a cup of latte, to which Freiburger is very partial.

So what do you get for $100,000 – it could turn out to be quite a bit more than first realized.  Freiburger has made culture a business and he’s good at it.  He has taken a number of old buildings in Hamilton and found a new life for them – getting different arts groups in space that works for them in terms of décor and setting and at a cost they can manage.

Is Freiburger up a ladder on this assignment or is he up there getting a good look at the bigger culture picture in Burlington?

Now he has to apply his expertise and experience to Burlington’s situation.  The exercise is going to consist asking a lot of questions – and to get the answers to the questions Freiburger plans to go right into the community to the grass roots level and ask questions.

He has set up a Cultural Conversation in each of the six wards and managed to tick off the Council member for the wards when he sort of “uninvited”  them to the event.  Freiburger wants to hear from the citizens and he felt he would have a better conversation with the Council members out of the room.  The politicians didn’t particularly like that one – but Freiburger knows what he is doing.

During his workshop presentation he asked council members some very direct questions. “Do you want more direct input throughout the process? And :How would you like to be kept up to date?

Councillor Lancaster wants people that don't work at city hall on the Steering Committee.

Blair Lancaster wanted citizens on the Steering Committee in a leadership role and “not just sitting there once a month getting an update”. She felt it essential that this look into culture “not be led by staff at city hall”.  The Steering Committee currently keeps the following people occupied:

Chris Glenn, Director Parks and Recreation

Karen Sabzali, Manager, Community Development Services

Angela Paparizo, Recreation Planner

Brenda Heatherington, Executive Director BPAC

Jody Wellings, Special Business Area Coordinator (Downtown)

Ian Ross, Burlington Art Centre

Carla Marshall, Festivals and Event, City of Burlington

Barbara Teatero, Museums of Burlington

Maureen Barry, Burlington Public Library

Andreas Kyprianou, Royal Botanical Gardens

There are a couple there that won’t do much more than warm a seat; remove them and add at least four citizens, with at least two of them university students and Freiburger will have more in the way of bench strength.  He is going to need it.

Freiburger wants to get to the grass roots and ask questions; Councillor Lancaster wants to see some of those grass roots on the Steering Committee.

Freiburger tends towards having data, fresh data and using that data to drive his decision making process.  He mentioned during the Workshop presentation that there were two data bases that had approximately 650 names each – but when they dug down into the data there were something just over 150 that were still active. Freiburger wants better data, and his focus is to go to the community and to the stakeholders and ask a lot of questions.

Freiburger and his team expect to have thousands of dots placed on maps - that data will tell him what people do culturally and where they do it.

For example he wants to know what Burlingtonians identify as “cultural” locations.  He will be asking people to put a little sticker on a map.  By the time he has finished he will have a very valid representation of where people think culture can be found in Burlington.  Then he takes it one step further and asks people: Where do you spend your money on culture?  This is an excellent question.  He may find that people tell him there are all kinds of cultural locations in Burlington but they don’t spend their money at these locations.  His next question is to find out why.

In order to set out a Cultural Action Plan there has to of course be a plan to work from in the first place.  Freiburger points out that culture is unique to each community and that what works in Kingston may not work in Burlington and what they do in Hamilton just isn’t a fit for the people of Burlington.  It would be kind of nice though wouldn’t it,  if there were Art Crawls in Burlington?

Freiburger wants to determine just what we have in the way of cultural resources.  Yes, there is the museum, the Art Centre, the Performing Art Centre, Drury Lane and a dozen or so others.  But Freiburger wants to go deeper – is there something that is being missed.

One of the things he will be doing is setting up a booth at the Sound of Music Festival and pulling people in to ask questions.  He then plans to take part in the Children’s Festival and has some very unique ideas for learning what the young people think culture is and what it isn’t.

As a video it was called The Sweater as a book it was The Hockey Sweater - a book for every boy and girl in the country. But is it culture ?

Freiburger wants his data to be cross cultural and that means getting to the sports groups and hearing what they have to say.  While sports at first glance may not fit the cultural lens a lot of people use – watch the British at their soccer matches – that’s cultural.  Don Cherry doesn’t fit my cultural lens – but I would argue that Wayne Gretzky and Maurice Richard and Roch Carrier ’s  book The Hockey Sweater is as Canadian culture as you’re going to get.

The first step in the developing of a Cultural Plan for the city is a “launch” which will take place at the Performing Arts Centre this Wednesday – June 6th.  Go to eventbrite.com and enter Cultural Plan – Burlington and get yourself a free ticket.

There is more to tell about how this Cultural Plan is going to be developed – let’s see how the launch goes and we will follow up from there.  In the meantime – check out the dates and times for the Cultural Conversations – and if this stuff is important to you – make a point of getting together with your neighbours and getting your views out on the table.  Jeremy Freiburger is sincere, passionate about what he does and he not only wants to listen but he knows how to listen and when he isn’t sure he fully understood what you wanted to say – he will ask you questions.

Freiburger is one of those guys that you would describe as a bon vivant; the kind of person you want at a dinner party.

The question for Burlington as we go forward with the development of a Cultural Plan is this.  Freiburger knows how to listen, and wants to listen.  Will he be listened to?


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2 comments to Burlington taking a $100,000 deep look into CULTURE. Will we see a black hole or a rainbow?

  • Norton

    July 19, 2010

    A major public spat has erupted in Hamilton’s arts community over a proposed “incubator” project known as the Creative Catalyst.

    At stake is whether city council will unlock $500,000 in public funds to get it going or walk away from the project altogether.

    And a secondary controversy has also popped up: Who actually “owns” the project concept — the city or the local arts group that proposed it?

    “The Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts (ICCA) does (own it),” Jeremy Freiburger, executive director of the non-profit arts advocacy group, said last week.

    The city will have to decide if it wants to partner in the project, he said. “It’s at our discretion to determine who the partners are.”


  • Margaret Lindsay Holton

    Pepper, typo in header …. Should read $100,000 …

    Also, the courtesy of a reply to my last query would be very much appreciated. Are you going to run my submission of May 25th? If ‘Part 2’ is too much to handle, drop it. Just run ‘Part 1’. If you don’t intend to use it at all, kindly let me know. I have ‘alerted’ a few, but will ‘un-alert’ if it’s a ‘no go’. Please let me know. Thank you.

    ‘Culture’, by the way, is defined locally, provincially, nationally and internationally by the ‘gatekeepers’. Most leave Burlington to make their mark elsewhere. As example, I’ve received acclaim and awards in New York, Milan, Chicago, Toronto, even Hamilton, but never from ‘Burlington’. Not complaining, just stating a fact. Turning what is essentially a ‘bedroom community’ into a cultural powerhouse is a tad delusional. Still, stranger things have happened. Perhaps a fusion of BusinessInBurlington with SiliconHalton, enveloped by the local arts community can create a unique synergy, but, in truth, I’m not holding my breath. Those who work with their hands are in fundamental opposition to those who work on computers. Conceptualizing is different, manifestation is different, and results are different. It’s like a clash of cultures, the REAL one versus the VIRTUAL one.

    As a middle class bedroom community that takes its cues primarily from t.v. and imported mass media, Burlington has done little to cultivate, nurture and develop a truly ‘grassroots’ perspective. This was amplified to me during the Hearing of October 2010, when the flown-in ‘plastic grass’ experts from the States, and the lead designer of the largest park in Burlington, ‘City View Park’, kept remarking how “sport” parks worked in New York City. Hello? Burlington is not, and will never be, ‘New York City’. Talk about delusional …