Will council spring for $100,000 + to manage culture? Finding a balance between keeping us a top city and still fiscally prudent is a challenge.

By Pepper Parr

February 10, 2014


Expect to hear much more about “business cases”, documents that set out what the city wants to do with your money.

The document the bureaucracy provides is pretty straight forward. It sets out what they want to do and how much they expect to spend.  Some of the business cases are recommended by the Executive Budget committee while others are not.

The arts and culture set knew what they wanted – what they weren’t sure of was – is city hall listening to them?

The city wants to hire a Manager of Cultural Planning.  There is currently a Cultural Planner on staff who worked half time out of the Parks and Recreation department.  That position has been made full-time, however the planner is still doing quite a bit of Parks and Recreation work..

The intention is to have a Cultural Manager along with the Cultural Planner who will oversee  the implementation of the cultural plan that has been approved by city council.  What the public has not seen yet is the specifics of the plan that is to be implemented.

The city will spend something in the order of $120,000 for the manager and associated costs. Back when the Performing Arts Centre was a gleam in the eye of many Burlington had a small arts organization that got renamed Creative Burlington.  It was the place that had what information there was on the arts and the people in the art business.  They were heavily involved in the Taste of Burlington event but relied on Ontario Trillium funding.  When that ran out Creative Burlington appealed to the city for $65,000 to stay alive while they worked on a funding formula to become sustainable.  The city turned them down – now the same council is going to consider putting up $100,000 plus, for a full-time person that will be come part of the year to year budget.

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.

About a year after that, the city put out a Request for a Proposal for some research and idea development on culture and the city.  Jeremy Freiburger, head of Cobalt Connects brought in his Cultural Directions report that provided the  city with all kinds of data based on extensive research and community input.  It was some of the best data the city has every had available about culture.   Freiburger was able to tell us how much we spend on culture, where we spend it and where there was opportunity for cultural growth in the city.

This at a time when the Performing Arts Centre had opened to mixed reviews and then went into a dive when it went to city council saying they needed twice as much money as originally thought they would need in the way of a subsidy.  To its credit the Performing Arts Centre has recovered and while it will always require a subsidy management over there expects  that to come in at below $500,000 perhaps as early as 2015

That resulted in the then Executive Director deciding that family was more important and submitting a resignation to the Board.  The board itself realized it needed to up its game and recruited some new members –this time adding some much-needed business acumen and one  member who at least dabbled in the arts.

It was real art which the public liked and it was one of a number of elements that brought to the surface a desire for more in the way of cultural life in the city – and brought it from a community few knew all that much about.

At about the same time the city took up the generous offer insurance executive Dan Lawrie made to pay for a large part of a sculpture that was to be erected outside the Performing Arts Centre.  The Spiral Stella was unveiled on a bright sunny day – the audience oohed and awed and that was it.  The thing just stands there with nothing more said or done about it. 

This after a delightful piece of public art set up in a just plain dumb location – on a major traffic artery yards away from a railway underpass on Upper Middle Road.

We seemed to be going from one disappointment to another when – almost out of nowhere, the artists themselves decided to stand up on their hind legs and bark aloud.  Trevor Copp,  who had been named Artist of the year delegated before city council and said he wanted to be able to perform in the community he lived in and didn`t want to always be “on the road”.  His delegation was like one of those Chinese fire crackers that go one and on. Copp struck a chord that is still reverberating.

A meeting of arts types was called, there is some difference of opinion as to who actually called the meeting, but it took place with 20 people at the first one, then a second meeting with sixty people and out of that came the Arts and Culture Collective of Burlington with its own Facebook page that you have to be recommended to get in.

Suddenly the arts community had a voice and the bureaucrats had someone they could listen to.  Prior to this, all the city had was those who wanted culture and those who didn’t think it was the city’s business to be doing all that much for the artists.

With all this early stage fermentation taking place there was then the No Vacancy art installation at the Waterfront hotel that was as avant guard as it gets and over the top for Burlington.  It was a one night stand that was supposed to take place in a motel but got upgraded to the Waterfront hotel where management was scared silly that the vice squad was going to raid the place.  The nude stretched out on the hotel room bed was a stunning piece of installation art.  The event lasted a couple of hours and was a knockout.

Mixed in with the No Vacancy event was a bit of Slam Poetry – few even knew what Slam Poetry is, but here in Burlington there is a group of poets who perform once a month at the Black Bull on Guelph Line.  They work with funding from the Canada Council and no one for the most part knew anything about them.

A delightful work of art – but you may never see it – sitting as it does in the middle of Upper Middle Road yards away from a railway underpass. Councillor Lancaster argued that the thing wasn’t in her ward.

Members of Council seemed thrilled that the city had such a vibrant arts community – one they knew very little about – so much for council members having their ears to the ground.

With all that by way of background – what will city council decide to do in the way of supporting this nascent community?  Will they approve the hiring of a full-time Cultural Manager?  And what impact will that have on the implementation of the Cultural Action Plan?  And just what’s in that Plan anyway?  And who is overseeing this cultural initiative?

Getting to this point has not been easy.  There was a point at which Freiburger saw his efforts as being “trashed” by senior city hall management that didn’t bring an arts or culture background to their work.  Most had come out of a gymnastics culture that many in the arts community felt didn’t understand what it is that makes the arts tick.  The differences between bouncing on a trampoline and working the strings of a big Gibson guitar  are not comparable other than they both require discipline and practice.

The Freiburger report landed on the desk of General Manager Kim Phillips who had her portfolio drastically cut when city manager Jeff Fielding moved finance, legal and information technology to his desk.  Philips was left with Parks and Recreation, the Fire department and oversaw the management of the creation of a Citizen’s Charter – which has yet to be given life. Culture will also report to Phillips

The working relationship between the city manager and general manager Phillips is not the best – perhaps some additional “adjustment” to his senior team when a performance review takes place?

The cultural initiative is sitting in limbo until city council approves the expenditure for the Cultural manager who is expected to work somewhere outside city hall.  The Executive Budget Committee (EBC) supports the expenditure which will become an annual expense. 

The cultural community wanted to be in on the ground floor of any decision-making – they made their voices heard – now they wait to see of council will fund culture in a meaningful way.

The arts community will be out in force on the 13th when this item will be open for delegations.  It is a critical decision for the city – the choice they make will pinch the growth of the arts and culture in the city or give it the room it needs to grow and flourish.

What will this person do?  The Business case the city set out has the Cultural manager serving in a leadership role to “develop and maintain networks of cultural contacts including cultural Board and maintain cultural mapping on-line. This leader will use a community development model to develop an external non-profit organization that will be called the Burlington Arts and Cultural Council.”

“The Cultural Manager will be expected to ensure that the city`s cultural services: – festivals and events, public art, Burlington Teen Tour Band and the Burlington Student Theatre are delivered in a customer first service model and are well-managed with appropriate requests for financial and human resource support.”

The expectation appears to be that this manager would become the “service owner” for cultural services in the city.

The Sound of Music has their request in for $48,000 (they asked for basically the same amount last year – didn’t get it) and the EBC has not recommended the request this year but, Heritage Burlington is in for a tonne of money – one chunk with a $103,450 price tag and the other budgeted at $125,000 in 2013.  Of that amount there is $97,228 that will be rolled over into 2014.

Next in this look at business cases series – the Burlington Economic Development Corporation and its ask for $275,000 – which has been approved by the Executive Budget Committee comes up for debate.  Council has continued to throw money at the EBC hoping some of it will produce results.

Background links: 

Arts community smells funding.

No Vacancy event revealed a different Burlington.


Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.