Strat Plan Part 6: Culture and the Arts

DilbertThe fifth and final objective in Collingwood’s developing strategic plan (the woo-hoo plan) is culture and the arts. For something so important to the community, with such a huge potential, it encompasses a mere two goals. Disappointingly, neither of them relate to its huge economic potential, which everyone else seems to understand except this committee and its council.

“The rapidly evolving global economy demands a dynamic and creative workforce. The arts and its related businesses are responsible for billions of dollars in cultural exports for this country. It is imperative that we continue to support the arts and arts education both on the national and local levels. The strength of every democracy is measured by its commitment to the arts.” Charles Segars, CEO of Ovation

Only two goals are suggested for our burgeoning creative/cultural economy, what may easily be the most important sector in our local economy over the next decade or two. There are more items in the first section about using the plan’s logos than there are goals here. At least there are several action items, albeit typically lame, vague ones. I suppose it’s like what La Rochefoucauld wrote:

Fertility of mind does not furnish us with so many resources on the same matter, as the lack of intelligence makes us hesitate at each thing our imagination presents, and hinders us from at first discerning which is the best. Maxim 287.

So little does this group (and by extension, this council) regard arts and culture than they are not even mentioned in the proposed vision statements!

Goal: Promote arts and cultural programs

Duh. Aside from the complete face-palm-plant obviousness of this, it doesn’t say how one promotes programs. Newsletters are obviously out since many of those at the table criticized the previous council’s use of newsletters for public communication. Semaphore? Smoke signals? Tweets?

Nor does it identify whose programs it promotes. Or even who does the promoting. There’s no indication this is even local. Is the town supposed to support, say, the Stratford Festival’s theatrical programs?

And what arts? A male friend of mine will argue seriously pole dancing is an art. Are we going to bring back the Georgian Grill as the new arts centre? I’m not sure if there are programs for pole dancing, however, and this goal clearly states the town should support programs, not the arts and culture themselves.

Goal: Support and expand the diversity of community events and festivals

Another head banger. Who isn’t going to isn’t going to support events and festivals? Well, all those people who hate Elvis, of course.And those downtown merchants who whine and grumble every time the main street is closed or has activity. But there are always people who hate everything.

Does this sentence mean ‘support the diversity and expand the diversity’? Or ‘support community events and expand the diversity’? Improper punctuation makes it unclear.

One wonders how you can expand diversity, since the word means a range of different things which suggests it is already expanded. If it’s already diverse – i.e. varied – does it need to be expanded and if so – how?

Do they mean make single events more diverse? And if so what events? Do they want to make the Elvis Festival into Elvis, Blues and Brews? or the Jazz at the Station into Jazz and Polka music at the Station? How about Local Live Lunch and Sudoku Contest?

Let me reiterate a point I made earlier: a good strategic plan talks in practical terms and specifics: a woo-hoo plan talks in generalities and fuzzy terms. Welcome to woo-hoo.


ACTION ITEM: Explore opportunities to promote education within the arts, such as through consultation with the Simcoe County District School Board to add to existing music programs additional programs in drama/arts.

Always with the “explore opportunities’ bafflegab. What opportunities exist? You cannot explore what does not exist. This sort of sentence pretends to action but it’s really a weak-kneed approach. Instead of saying what the town and council should do, it suggests vague possibilities of a third party “exploring” opportunities, which will no doubt result in a staff report or delegation and nothing being done.

This is time for a Yoda moment: There is no explore. There is only do.

Again, the group wants the town to take over roles outside its jurisdiction and expertise. Education, again in this case. Imagine council telling the board of ed how to set up its curricula. As if the province has no say in the matter, either.

What is “education within the arts” anyway? Secretly hiding a math textbook in a painting? Making someone answer a geography quiz before a dance recital?

And who is going to fund this stuff, these new classroom activities? The boards of ed already run on a shoestring. The arts community? The term ‘starving artist’ isn’t a metaphor. A town which has been told to cut expenses and not incur more debt?

ACTION ITEM: Encourage the provision of public art through the planning/development application process.

Another spineless term: encourage. Do or don’t do. Who do you encourage? Town planners? Developers? And who provides the art? Who  pays for it? Where does it go? Stuck curbside on some boulevard in a new subdivision?

What kind of art? Busking is an art. Does this mean buskers will ride bulldozers while the land is cleared for new homes? Will mimes perform at committee of adjustment meetings?

ACTION ITEM: Encourage the development of art galleries and opportunities for public art. This may be considered through the Community Improvement Plan process recommended under Objectives #2 and #3.

Encourage: see above. Opportunities: see above.

Who will “develop” these? Galleries cost money. Private galleries operate on a for-profit basis. They are not charities. Did these people  go to any of the many existing galleries and ask if the town could support more? If the town needed more? If they were doing a thriving business or barely making ends meet?

The town can’t afford a new public gallery (besides we already have public gallery space in both the library and council chambers).

What are “objectives #2 and #3”? There are only goals and action items listed on this web page.

ACTION ITEM: Consider the re-convening of the Arts and Culture Committee.

Argh! Just what we need is another committee to tell council how to think. True, there is less culture at the council table than in a cup of yogurt, so having someone – anyone – with even a modicum of it might help! But no one on the committee, as far as I am aware, has any more background in culture or the arts than council. Philistines!

“We need people who think with the creative side of their brains—people who have played in a band, who have painted…it enhances symbiotic thinking capabilities, not always thinking in the same paradigm, learning how to kick-start a new idea, or how to get a job done better, less expensively.” Annette Byrd, GlaxoSmithKline

Frankly selling culture to this lot would be like selling tofu in a bacon festival. Culture is simply too relevant to town interests for council and this committee to get involved and mess things up. That will only lead to a call for another plan to avoid having to make decisions. Leave it to the folks at economic development who know its value.

As for the verb “consider” – that’s another inaction verb that suggests the possibility of the slightest chance of a potential action, but it isn’t action itself.  Either re-convene it or don’t.

ACTION ITEM: Explore opportunities to cross-promote local events, including, for instance, winter-themed festivals.

Explore opportunities with whom? Cross-promote with whom? And what opportunities exist now that have not already been ‘explored’?

Do these people think that event organizers don’t pursue every possible outlet for promotion already? And what local events? This council already tried to kill Jazz at the Station rather than give it the small funding it required, so how much will they put into promoting other events?

ACTION ITEM: Explore partnerships for new events with community groups.

What community groups? Explore a partnership for a new jazz festival with the chess club? Explore an antique car show-and-shine with the horticultural society? There aren’t a lot of event-driven community groups in the event business. And very few community groups have any throw-away money to invest.

There is this wacky notion that partnerships with the private sector are just waiting to be snapped up for every activity, event and institution. We’re a small town. Our resources are limited. Even large urban municipalities can’t always find private sector partners to share the costs. Sometimes a municipality just has to put on its big-boy pants and carry the burden itself.

ACTION ITEM: Develop Town’s presence on social media so that events can be advertised to a broader market.

Huh? Didn’t any of these people check the town’s Facebook pages? Its Twitter account? Or speak to the communications officer about her social media strategy? This stuff has been in the works for a few years now. Why don’t these people know about it? How much more does it need to be “developed”?

Maybe the action item should read” teach the committee members how Facebook and Twitter work…”

ACTION ITEM: Explore potential for Town’s parks to be used as multi-use destinations, such as places to host public events.

See my earlier comments about weak-kneed inaction verbs. What sort of “multi-use destination” do they have in mind? A combination medieval festival and heavy metal concert? A paintball championship and water balloon festival?

I am at this point not surprised that this group is unaware that our parks are already used for public events such as sports games, rallies, runs, the Taste of Collingwood and concerts. It’s a bit redundant to ask why they never bother to ask anyone about this beforehand.


Where is the content about the creative economy and investing in it? There is nothing about culture as an economic driver. Nothing about developing unique signage to identify areas of culture (like Simcoe Street), artists and their galleries. Or implementing an art tax on new development to allow the purchase of art for public spaces. or about expanding the farmers’ market to embrace more artists and musicians. or about amending the currently lame and restrictive busker rules to allow for a wider musical expression.

Where is the municipal sponsorship for new events? Turning off the musical pablum pumped through downtown speakers? Incentives for artists, writers, sculptors, etc.? A new category for the Order of Collingwood to reward significant artistic accomplishments? A town policy to use and promote only photographers (i.e. no more generic  photos used in reports, presentations or websites, including those produced by third parties paid by public funds – like consultants working on strategic reports)?

There’s nothing on theatre, poetry, writers, photographers, sculptor, downtown display banners, art shows, film festivals… So many things were overlooked… nothing even about moving arts and culture and events management out of Parks, Rec and Culture into economic development where it can do the most good.

But at least the woo-hoo was kept in.

That wraps up my comments on the five areas of interest. Like the four preceding areas, this one is mostly vapid woo-hoo with not a lot of practical content, and far, far more overlooked than was included.


Next post I’ll sum up my thoughts and make some other general comments about both the plan and the general contents. You might already have an inkling of what I’ll say…

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