Killing Our Culture

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No more jazzCollingwood has killed Jazz & Blues at the Station – a popular, long-running, local cultural event second in audience only to the Elvis Festival. It brought some of Ontario’s top jazz and blues talent to play at the Museum. The hundreds of people assembled every Wednesday for the free concert – sometimes more than 400 in a single night, many of them coming from Blue Mountain, Clearview and Wasaga Beach – will be disappointed. As are the organizers, who have been trying unsuccessfully since late last year to get the town to commit to promised funding.

All those people who came downtown for the music then went to local bars and restaurants afterwards, or came to shop before the concert – won’t be giving Collingwood their business this year. They won’t be sitting on a patio on a warm summer night sharing their experience.

One less cultural event to attract visitors and entertain locals.

In previous terms, other councils have helped the non-profit event by funding it to pay for bands and performers.  It’s a tiny expense for a huge return in public relations and public engagement. Some of us at the table last term understood that and made sure the event went ahead.

This council clearly doesn’t give a damn about local events or culture. But it does care about giving itself a raise instead. How open and accountable is that?

This term, council raised your taxes in order to give themselves and staff a raise. This council gave Councillor Jeffrey a $40,000 slush fund to run for a seat on the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) board – a position which glorifies her and provides her with free flights, hotels and meals across Canada, but does nothing for the community.

How accountable was that?

This council raised your water bills, against advice from the utility’s own water director, for no reason other than to suit a private agenda of some administrative staff.

But it couldn’t find $10,000 in a $50 million budget to pay for the town’s second-most popular summertime event. That’s a pretty clear message about how this council treats culture.

Just the raises granted to the top two or three administrative staff alone could have funded the event this year. Perhaps councillors felt life is already hard enough on people making more than $100,000 a year with a fulsome retirement package and benefits.

If you received the town’s “news” letter (the dull, grey page with no actual news in it), you’ll see Jazz at the Station advertised in the events section. But this week, the organizers had to pull the plug because the town wouldn’t support the event as other councils did in the past.

No doubt the organizers will look to more receptive communities to help sponsor their popular event; communities where the money will be spent instead of Collingwood. Communities open to hosting free concerts that attract hundreds of people every week. Communities that recognize the importance and economic benefits of cultural activities. Communities that give a damn about culture.

As a final note, the town’s culture and events staff are misplaced and spinning their wheels in the wrong department. They should be working in economic development not Parks and Recreation. Arts, music and culture should be seen as an economic initiative, not simply as a form-filling exercise. Maybe if they were with EcDev, they would have had someone to champion the event rather than let it die. Some of us wanted to make that change last term, but were forestalled by administrative staff. This is the result.

With this council’s attitude towards events and culture, don’t expect any such positive or innovative changes to the existing structure.

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