City holds first public consultation on Culture Action Plan; artists fail to make their point – uninvited to second session.



August 29, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  If there was a platform that the Artists Collective wanted to put forward – and there is one – it didn’t show much of its head at the first public consultation meeting on the creation of a Cultural Action Plan based on the consultant’s report the city now has in hand.

The Artists Collective was very clear – they want the Parks and Recreation people out of the culture business. They want people with training on something other than a trampoline, preferably with degrees in the arts and practical experience as well.

Jim Riley, an artist who was in the room last night, made a significant point when he said online that “he  noticed the table Trevor was at managed to present some of the platform of this collective. I recall one other table bringing forward some aspect of the platform”

The artists heard city  general manager Kim Phillips correctly when she said they need not bother to show up at the second public consultation at Tansley Woods if they were in attendance last night.

Teresa Seaton, centre, does the deep think with others during the public consultation on the Cultural Action Plan

Teresa Seaton, a stained glass artist who was a prime player in the creation of the ten year old Art in Action program, that gives more to emerging artists in the way of financial support than the city does, asks: Are we really not allowed to go to the next consultation? Funny!

The artists need to learn how to make their case and to do so as forcefully as they need to – or the “gymnasts” will continue to do what they’ve been doing for the past five years.

Many felt it was great that the mayor stayed for the entire event.

Trevor Copp, the Burlington actor who mobilized the arts into a Collective makes a point on leadership while Executive Director of the Burlington Museum’s operation listens.

It was a decently attended meeting – but decent attendance isn’t going to change the way city hall thinks.  Art and culture is not something that has a foothold in Burlington yet.  The positive note is that the artists now realize this and they have organized and are pushing back.  Push harder – or you will lose.

What did transpire?

The meeting was organized into working groups with people at different tables working through different subjects.

The city wanted to know what the artists thought in terms of vision at one table; the creation of cultural nodes was the topic at another, leadership and funding at another.

The discussion was solid for the most part.  We did hear the word “proactive” used very often – but no one seemed sure what was really meant by the word.  One artist made a point of asking that question: “What do we mean when we say we want to be proactive?”

The artists want to be sure that they define the word and that city hall understands and accepts the definition they create.

While it was a good meting the city failed to allow participants to adequately prepare for the meeting.  There was a 25 page report that set out work plans for six key areas of focus each of which had a number of deliverables and initiatives embedded in it.

Brian McCurdy, newly appointed Executive Director of the Performing Arts Centre got a chance to bend the Mayor’s ear. Many were impressed that the Mayor stayed for the full evening.  Few realized his wife was there taking part as an accomplished artist in her own right.

Three year action plans, basic review criteria and five-year goals were set out in the document.  The consultant Jeremy Freiburger at CoBALT Connects, also set out what they felt was the core financial investment required and key shareholder contributions where possible.

It was patently unfair to expect those attending to give what is a key document for the development of a Cultural Action Plan the time and attention it needed when they get to a meeting.  Some members of the Artists Collective did have a copy of the report – but many had never seen the thing.  Yes, it was on the city’s web site – and if you found it, you were fortunate.  The city is still working through the development of its e-gov initiative – they’re not there yet.

Jeremy Freiburger, the consultant who wrote the Cultural Plan and provided a lengthy set of recommendations, is probably the best cultural thinker west of Toronto and could hold his own with anyone in Toronto. He is credited with the creation of the Arts Walk event in Burlington. No one is sure just how much of his report will make it into the budget.

Freiburger set things out for the city in plain clear language in his recommendations.  It is now up to the city to decide what it wants to do.  Public consultations are being held – the first was last night – they city is going to need to be much more inclusive and find a way to reach out to a wider audience.  The Artists Collective has organized themselves more effectively – now, and  they need to learn one key lesson: bureaucrats do not like to give up any power they have.

There is hope however.  City Hall and City Council found that they could not manage the Heritage file and they basically outsourced that to the Heritage Advisory Committee.  If the Artists can convince the Mayor and the city manager and then a majority of the council members there is a hope.

In the opening remarks to his recommendations Freiburger said:

Focus Areas: The focus areas were chosen to address the needs and desires we felt were most paramount in the community.  While we acknowledge that there are other issues that could have been formally addressed in this plan we felt it was important to give you a plan that was achievable and targeted.  A plan that provides an exhaustive list of options and actions only provides room for distraction and misalignment.  We feel that if the community focuses on these core issues, other successes and resources will follow.

Timeline: Similar to the focus areas, we felt that providing a plan that was tied to a realistic timeline was essential.  Oftentimes, as evidenced in the Internal Literature Review of this process, 10-year plans get lost within the hectic schedules of your organizations and the municipality.  It’s all too easy to lose sight of a 10- year goal, but a goal within the next 12 months must remain top of mind.  We also feel that plans with longer durations mean less and less to Council as they shift.  Creating a shorter timeframe in which Council, staff and stakeholders can show ownership and see action is key.

It was vision and cultural courage that got this piece of art outside the Arts Centre. The artists in the city are going to have to bring the vision to city hall and press hard for the cultural courage that will be needed to make the city a place with a cultural base.

Vision: Through the recommendations provided we aim to see Burlington become a community that provides clear leadership on cultural development.  Throughout its history Burlington has made strong choices to support the development of incredible facilities like the ones you manage, unique programs like Student Theatre and Teen Tour Band, great festivals, incredible outdoor spaces and a network libraries and community centres that rival any in the country.  In our opinion your next strategic choices are about leadership, collaboration and community.

 Throughout this process we did not only identify issues; we also connected with opportunity.  Almost every citizen or artist, parent or cultural provider, business or politician we met offered possible solutions, expertise and ideas on moving the cultural yardstick forward.  No one asked not to be further engaged.

With this in mind the principle gaps we see as paramount are essentially human resources and communication.  The willingness is in the community – be that at Council, in neighbourhoods, or boardrooms.  Everyone wants an opportunity to participate if they feel the request is realistic, supported and genuine.  With a commitment to human resources focused on development, sustainability and communication we feel Burlington’s cultural community will thrive.

Finally, we want to impress upon you that this is not a plan for just the municipality to enact.  Where possible we’ve given roles and responsibilities to cultural and non-cultural bodies, residents, City staff, artist and residents alike. We also set goals on the engagement of other funders, business partners and the creative/cultural industry as a whole to bring this plan to fruition.

As you review these recommendations know that they are just that – recommendations.  You’re free to explore new ideas, reshape these concepts or add additional initiatives.  We hope you’ve found our approach thorough, creative and inclusive and we look forward to working with you as you take the City of Burlington Cultural Action Plan through its final stages.

There is much more to say on this file.

Stay tuned.


Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.