By Carol Feeney – The Advisory Committee for the Regional Cultural Planning committee met on June 7, 2012 to review the draft cultural plan. At the meeting Greg Baeker of Millier Dickinson Blais provided an overview of the Key Findings and Directions Report (not the final report). The Report summarized the results of the research and community engagement, and concludes with eight strategic directions which will guide the recommendations and actions of the final Cultural Plan. The presentation focused on the strategic directions described in the report.
While there were many comments on individual Strategic Directions, a few overriding messages emerged from the discussion. The Plan will not establish consensus on all issues among all stakeholders, however, it will provide a framework and set of mechanisms to sustain dialogue to maintain momentum and cooperation.
This process will take time; although the Plan can produce some short-term wins it must incorporate mechanisms to facilitate progress over the long-term. The process can also take longer when building public/private sector partnerships. The Plan needs to be a road map that enables action by each municipality separately and collectively over the long-term. Funding considerations are central to the Plan and to the directions it sets forward. The municipalities themselves are one source but there is need for ‘thinking outside the box’ about other sources.
There must be a strong value proposition established for culture. In tourism, concrete economic impact metrics/numbers have made a big difference. Without establishing this value proposition, the potential for real investment in culture would be hard to achieve. Cultural resources and cultural development must be seen as an integral component to local economic development. Councils and stakeholders must come to see funding not as a subsidy but as an investment.
In many ways this is a communications and public relations challenge. People must come to understand how important cultural is to the economy. Champions will be needed to carry this message forward. Simple awareness of different organizations and activities is less the issue than deeper understanding and sustained engagement.
The cultural plan could start with some ‘easy wins’ to start the ball rolling. It is about both developing and selling a product to residents and visitors/tourists. Here are some examples:
- Strong cultural packages need to be developed and they must be of sufficient quality not to disappoint when they are marketed.
- Some overall cultural branding (‘meta narrative’) is needed for the region.
- Developing products and packages could be a central part of the Cultural Plan.
There are challenges in positioning the Plan in each partner municipality; each are at different stages of understanding regarding a range of issues including culture’s role in leveraging the ‘creative economy’.
There are also dangers of trying to be all things to all people. Local cultural and economic development strategies should not be discouraged; there may be strength in different areas having different strengths.
Overall, a number of specific actions identified include:
- The waterfront trail must be connected.
- Youth engagement is a systemic problem. Youth need to be engaged in innovative ways. We need to listen to them as they are a strong force when mobilized and engaged.
- There are many parallels between Ontario East Economic Development’s, Region 9 Tourism (the Great Waterway) and the goals associated with this Plan. Regional branding and positioning, for example, should be explored and potentially incorporated into the final Plan.
- Municipal downtowns are being revitalized in several communities (Belleville and Trenton were noted as strong examples); although further work is needed across the region, success stories should be told. There should be ‘unique but consistent’ approaches to downtown revitalization.
- Look at and speak to existing success stories related to different recommendations in the Plan.
I am very encouraged by the findings and the efforts of all involved in creating this plan.
A final draft of the Final Report and Recommendations is currently being reviewed and scheduled to be presented to City and County Councils this Fall.