Putting the cultural wheels in motion and making the arts a bigger part of the city’s economic development.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 12, 2012   “I would like” said the city of Burlington, “a Master plan for the cultural industries in my city.   Here is what I have, now what should I do to grow what I have.”

That basically is the question a Request for Proposals asked and what the CoBALT CONNECT contract is going to answer in the next twelve months.  Here is how a conversation between the city and CoBALT CONNECT might have gone as the negotiated the contract.

Burlington has been engaged in creating a cultural policy since 1991.  In that time the city managed to build a $40 million + Performing Arts Centre that we are so proud of we decided it needed to be adorned with some public art and we are spending an additional $100,000 on that.

The Brant Museum is a combination of culture and heritage and is within what some describe as a "cultural district".

Burlington believes in developing community capacity – not just municipal capacity, which is a collection of buildings.  In Burlington, a number of leisure and recreation programs are delivered through partnerships with community hubs and we want to do the same thing with the delivery of cultural services.

The city has seen significant population growth, we are the largest city in the Region and are nestled in beside Hamilton which has much more urbanity than we have, although not quite as much civility, and they draw the younger people in our city and we want to create more draw for that demographic here.

As well, we are seeing much more diversity than we are used to, and we want to integrate the different cultures into the cultural fabric of the community

We think the development of our cultural plan process will break out into three phases.  We bureaucrats like phases, they give us something to look forward to and we can usually get something into the budget to keep these phases alive.

Phase 1 from our point of view will begin with a review – we don’t want to re-invent the wheel now do we – but we do want to look at what other cities of a comparable size have done and at the same time get really adventurous and take a peek at what cities that are nowhere near what we are and see what they have done.  One of the objectives is to bring all the members of the internal cross department team we will develop, up to speed and have us all working from the same base.  We are desperate to make sure that we eliminate the silos – even though some of us are kind of comfortable with the things – if you know what I mean.

Phase 2 is when we think we should add a layer of community consultation and we would like this to be really robust.  We want to see a very high quality, transparent and mutually beneficial relationship between the city and its cultural stakeholders by the end of this process.

Stained glass artist Teresa Seaton is a force to be reckoned with in Burlington's cultural community. She will have a lot to say to the people developing a cultural plan for the city.

This is where we want to involve the focus groups we will establish.  You will have a focus group made up of the people who do culture; the playrights, the actors, the artists and even the buskers if there are any in Burlington.  Then a focus group of the people who serve the cultural industries; the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association.

We want to see a Youth focus group as well as a focus group from the education sector and then a focus panel from everyday citizens.

We want to hold two large scale collective engagement events plus a series of public consultation opportunities.  We’d like to see this as wide open as possible and not just those cultural dilatants who feel they are the true holders of the cultural flame.

Throughout these processes  we hope there will be an intense search for measureable data.  Change that from hope to a ‘gotta’  – we need data to give us some idea what the heck we`re doing.  The public knows we are spending their dollars when they see a road paved but it`s not quite as evident with the world of culture.  So we need numbers that will support what we are doing.

Phase 3 is where the chickens should be coming home to roost.  With community engagement coming out of our ears and everyone happy little campers, we want to be able to put our analysis, conclusions and recommendations in front of the public shaped as a Cultural Plan.  And we want this to be boffo!  This has to be a WOW! thing for the city.   2013 is going to be a great year for us and we don’t want any downers anywhere.

THE Pier will be opening, the art in front of the BPAC will be unveiled and our political masters will be in the final lap of their term of office and they all need to get credit for this plan.  So make sure they are in on it from the get go.  That won`t be hard – they will be using their elbows to get at the table.  You watch and see – even Councillor Dennison will find a way to appear as a cultural buff.

Throughout this public engagement phase, the relationship between the city and the Cultural Action Plan committees  will be tested, redefined and reshaped to reflect the needs of the larger community as we discover what they are.

The longer term hope is to introduce new, sustainable governance systems for planning and decision making regarding our cultural resources.  We have made a terrible mess of planning and explaining our heritage to the city,  we just don’t want to and can’t afford to make those mistakes again.  Can you help us?

Here is what we bring to the table.  We have a data base that has 356 organizations that have some link to culture – some of them might be slim links but we see culture as something that includes everything and anyone.  For us that ranges from the Mayor playing the piano at an event and the local MPP tripping over a brook and forgetting the words when he did his Singing in the Rain impression of Gene Kelly.  That event was given some legitimacy when our very own Jimmy Tapp gave us more than one chuckle.

Like bureaucrats around the world we break our work into phases and from 2006 to 2010 we focused on providing leadership for cultural development, building capacity and delivering clear benefits for the growing cultural community. Some of those benefits are not that easy to see – so we need to up the confidence level with our tax payers.

Our Heritage stuf is a bit of a mess right now but we are working on that.  Your mission, now that you’ve accepted it,  is:

To create a pro-active collaborative approach to cultural development.

Create a broad internal understanding of the cultural planning process and then give us some ideas on how to connect service delivery policies to our Strategic Direction..

When you do this we want there to be broad community engagement in the cultural planning process that includes cross sectional opportunities to move forward.

Chris Glenn, Director Parks and Recreation for Burlington is the "report to" person on the development of a cultural plan. He is on the far right. Councillor Paul Sharman, a strong supporter of culture in Burlington will be following developments closely.

Include in the report you are going to give us, a detailed cultural mapping process and an economic impact analysis which results in the identification of cultural and creative economic hubs and the evolving community needs and priorities.  We want you to highlight the public and private opportunities and while you`re at it give us significant insight into the concept of a cultural district strategy.  And help us find a way to make this meaningful to those folks in the Orchard and Alton parts of the city as well as those way up there in Kilbride.

Make sure you include a calculation of the economic impact of what culture can contribute to the economy of the city.  We want you to identify the generation of a dollar value that culture can deliver to the city.

We want you to create a rich cultural electronic portal for ongoing reporting, analysis and promotion.  You will know what that means.

Add to that a well-supported Cultural Plan to guide the city and its stake holders.

And because we think we are giving you a significant amount of money – something in the order of $100,000,  we want you to hold at least 15 meetings with staff and various advisory groups; we want you to hold at least two public consultations; add to that at least three focus groups – one consisting of education people, one from the cultural industry and another from the cultural sector

You’re going to have to hold a Council workshop as well, that will include the internal stakeholders.

Then wrap the whole thing up with a launch event at which you deliver the report for the full stakeholder community.

That’s basically what the city asked for in a Request for Proposal and then based on a proposal submitted by CoBALT CONNECTIONS they awarded them a contract and said  get a wiggle on,  we need the report in just over a year.

The folks at CoBALT Connection are already digging into the task.  Jeremy Freiburger, the man behind that organization is probably going to have to open up an office in Burlington to keep on top of it all.  Gosh, we are seeing some economic spin off already.


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