Is there an Arts Council in the city's future? Should there be one? Does anyone care?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

September 30, 2015


We used to refer to the group that have organized themselves as an Art Collective – ACCOB – which stands for the Arts and Culture Collective of Burlington as an “emerging” group. That day has passed – they are now trying very hard to gain a foothold and to have an impact on the way arts and culture policy and spending are done in Burlington. So far they aren’t getting the traction they need and feel they deserve.

BAC aerial

Art Gallery of Burlington – costs the city close to a million to run – is there value for money? Of course there is – but without artists would we need it?

BPAC raod not done yet

The Performing Arts Centre has had an immense impact on the artistic growth of the city – and the arts community is now able to make great use of the space.

They are dealing with a city hall that is close to patronizing to the individual artists and at the same time spends million on buildings and the subsidizing of an Art Gallery, a Performing Arts Centre and a Museum Board.

The artists feel they should form an Arts Council and be at the table with the same clout, financial benefit and influences the other organizations.

Jeremy Freiburger, author of a report that provided direction for the city's cultural plan based on reams of data he had gathered.  Now the city has to determine how it wants ti implement its Cultural Action Plan.

Jeremy Frieburger, author of a report that provided direction for the city’s cultural plan based on reams of data he had gathered. Now the city has to determine how it wants ti implement its Cultural Action Plan.

The city has a Cultural Action Plan and a committee that is involved in overseeing the roll out of that plan. One would like to think that having artists sitting on that implementation committee would be a positive sign – and indication that the artists are finally getting the influence they feel they deserve.

Afraid not – there is trouble in paradise.

ArtinAction sign lawn

The Art in Action Studio Tour is a ten year success. The event is free to the public and there isn’t a dime of public money in the project.

Teresa Seaton, who is a significant part of the driving force behind the Art in Action group that holds an annual art tour that is very successful – they have been putting on the event for more than ten years and are financially successful enough to be able to award a scholarship each year, thinks an Arts Council is needed.

Seaton is also a commercially successful Stained Glass artist with a studio in the west end of the city.

On the Collective Facebook page she made some comments … well let’s let Seaton speak for herself:

“Interesting meeting today as a delegate from the External Body Committee to CAPIC -The Cultural Action Plan Implementation Committee. Seems we are still defending the need for an Arts and Culture Council to the city. One of the questions that came up was: What would an Arts and Culture Council do for us, the arts and culture community, in Burlington. As far as I can tell one of the first things an Arts Council would do with funding it hopefully gets is to ask the community what can an Arts Council do for you? And because it seems we are a long way from getting any funding for an Arts Council I thought I might throw up the question here on face book. My personal suggestions…”

An Arts and Culture Council could;

1. Lobby the city to implement, or increase, the already existing public art fee on new developments. I believe the existing recommendation is 1%. I have trouble finding this information.
2. Lobby to lower rental cost for art and culture makers and organizations. No artist that I know can afford retail prices for space. Guess why they all move to Hamilton.
3. Assist arts and culture organization in allowing them access to city printing presses and costs. I know my organization, Art in Action, spends 2,000.00 every year to print its brochures. That money could be used to buy more advertising.
4. Run courses for non-profit organization in gaining more sponsorship dollars. As artists we are not particularly good at this either.
5. Run courses on Succession planning for non-profit organizations. We need help at this.
6. Set up courses for individual artist on social media. How to use it, how to design websites and communicate effectively.
7. Set up forums and try to figure out why the local guilds don’t talk to the local contemporary artists who don’t talk to the local traditional artist who don’t talk to the local crafters who don’t talk to anybody.

Seaton Teresa smile

Teresa Seaton – stained Glass artist

“Don’t get me wrong; the City of Burlington has come a long way in the last few years. I see the institutions working together more. There seems to be more community involvement in these institutions. But let’s not let this momentum stop.”

CAPIC: the Cultural Action Plan Implementation Committee consists of:

Scott Stewart, General Manager for the city
Angela Paparizo, Manager of Culture for the city
Chris Glenn; Director of Parks and Recreation
Barb Teatero Manager of the Museums Board which runs the Joseph Brant Museum and Ireland House.
Maureen Barry, president of the library
Rossana Dewey, an artist
Trevor Copp, a dancer

Andrea Battista, involved with Symphony on the Bay
Robert Steven, Executive Director of the Art Gallery of Burlington.

Six of the eight people on the committee are bureaucrats – there is no balance here.

The meeting Seaton attended and delegated at also had two other city hall staff and a ward Councillor.

Seaton is quite right when she talks about how far the artists have come – they have risen, literally, and said “we are here and we want to be heard”. And city council, a bit surprised at the artistic energy they didn’t know existed, put money into hiring a consultant who put together a cultural action plan that the city adopted – sort of, and the created a committee to implement that plan.

And that is sort of where things are stuck.

The artists don’t fully comprehend that politicians and bureaucrats do not give away power – they accumulate power and they are for the most part loathe to share that power.

The only way the people (in this case the artists) wrestle power from the bureaucrats is to threaten the power base they have.

City manager Jeff Fielding doesn't win every time.  Joe Lamb, negotiating for the Seniors' Centre basically took Fielding to the cleaners with the deal he talked the city into.

Joe Lamb, on the left, negotiated a deal for the seniors – he didn’t get the kitchen sink because he didn’t ask for it – but he got everything else he wanted. Then city manager Jeff Fielding was told to keep the seniors happy and he did. There is a lesson for the arts community here.

A classic example of this was when the seniors began to complain about what they were not getting from the city. They, the seniors, were not happy with the people city hall had sent over to administrate their Centre and they were quick to get on the phone and let the Council members know they were not happy.

The new city manager at the time was sent over to meet and negotiate with the seniors who got everything they had asked for and more. Jeff Fielding, the city manager at the time, was told to meet with the seniors and keep them happy.

Canadians learned yesterday that Canada now has more people over 65 than we have under 14 – the power has shifted to the seniors and they are going to get what they want o they will vote the politicians out of office.

What kind of clout do the artists have? They are creative people with the ability to give the city character, colour, reputation and a reason to visit the place.
The Sound of Music hasn’t learned yet how to use the clout they have. They constantly complain about how little they get from city hall and compare that with how much business they create for that downtown core that is still looking for its vibrancy.

Imagine what would happen if the Sound of Music decided they would not put on their event for a year. You can only imagine the hair pulling that would take place at city hall.

Seaton is right on another level as well; the artists have to begin working like an orchestra and all play from the same sheet music. The squabbling that goes on between the different artists and the different groups is not pretty. They are admittedly high strung people – they go without to be artists but at some point they have to create a united front and use the strength that comes from unity to make their case.

City council has consistently said the arts are important – and they do pump a lot into the institutions we have. The artists want a real seat at the table – they are going to have to require the politicians to walk their talk. It will not be easy – but it can be done – look at what the seniors achieved.

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