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(Posted 8:30 a.m., Feb. 11)
City council approves action plan for the arts

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The city's arts and culture community can look forward to sustainable funding for the foreseeable future after council approved a renewed action plan for the arts on Wednesday, which calls for a $5 million increase in base funding to be spread out over the next six years.

The plan is the culmination of a two-year consultation processes involving more than 185 arts, culture and heritage organizations including members of the city's First Nation and métis communities..

Among the various initiatives contained in the plan are:

- establishing a steering committee and working toward developing a downtown "mid-sized" concert hall;.

- a renewed municipal poet laureate program, through which a poet would be selected to promote literary arts to residents and serve as the city's literary ambassador;

- developing "cultural and creative districts and clusters" in various neighbourhoods and holding pilot projects within them;

- having the city proactively seek designation of heritage buildings and districts under the Ontario Heritage Act, and establishing a city bylaw that enforces preservation of heritage buildings and districts;

- a pilot project to develop the city's first municipal affordable "artist live-work scenario" that would include a focus on aging artists;

- holding a cultural summit every other year to bring together "local and national cultural players".

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson hailed the plan as being representative of the tremendous importance city council places on the arts, culture and heritage community.

“Arts, culture and heritage are about remembering where we come from, celebrating who we are today and dreaming about what we can be tomorrow,” said Mayor Watson. “These will continue to be the keys to our success, especially as we prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017."

Watson's enthusiasm was shared by local arts groups which have been waiting for a new plan ever since the former Arts Investment Strategy and Festivals Sustainablity Plan expired in 2010.

"It's as cohesive and comprehensive of a document as you're ever going to find," said Catherine O'Grady, who chairs the citizen advisory committee on arts, heritage and culture.

The plan calls for a total investment of $5 million in arts and culture over the next six years, $2 million of which will be added to the base funding of arts, heritage and culture organizations. Another $1.5 million will be spent on new facilities including minor retrofits and structural restoration at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum. Funding for a new visitors centre and a collections storage facility is also contained in the plan for 2018.

$900,000 will be added to the base funding for existing cultural facilities and remaining funds will be spent in a number of areas including marketing, the appointment of a poet laureate, and a biennial cultural summit.

The plan represents a major reaffirmation of the importance of arts to the city, both culturally and economically. It wasn't that long that arts and culture was the first place staff would look to make cuts. Back in 2008, staff made a recommendation to cut arts funding by $4.1 million. Council ended up rejecting the recommendation, but the debate that ensued led to the process that resulted in the renewed action plan..

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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