Cultural Conservatives

Strategy is talking the talk.

Culture is walking the walk.

The Town of Aurora wants to convince you it can do both by proceeding in crafting a Cultural Master Plan.

To learn more and contribute to the plan by check out the page on the town’s website here: http://www.aurora.ca/auroraculture

Council seems to be stressing the importance of the plan by holding off several decisions until it is complete. This includes wavering on the decision on how to advance library square.

The irony is that in advance of such a vision the town plowed ahead in the creation of the controversial "Cultural" Centre with the combined financial impact on the town of over $500,000 per year.

The origin of which was done in such a haphazard way that displaced the town’s museum and forced this term of council to restructure both a lease to the Church Street School and a Cultural Services Agreement.

As council arrived at approving the plan the absurdity behind it all came to a head as members couldn’t even define what "culture" is with some questioning the inclusion of sports.

Luckily the company hired to do the study has cut through the grey fog that was left at the council table and has defined it as anything that defines the unique identity of a community or social group.

Cultural Planning is not some new fanciful motion. Led by the Ontario Ministry of Culture in 2003 Municipal Cultural Planning Incorporated ( http://www.ontariomcp.ca/ ) was subsequently formed as a coalition of provincial government agencies, municipalities, cultural service organizations, post-secondary institutions and others dedicated to promoting MCP across the province.

The following presentation was given by Bill Poole Executive Director of the Municipal Cultural Planning Partnership: http://www.slideshare.net/erobson/introduction-to-municipal-cultural-planning

The presentation covers the basic fundamentals of municipal cultural planning and lists Community Engagement as one of the defining characteristics. Thi is something Aurora fails at miserably in every attempt.

Cultural Master plans are being advanced and restructured in several municipalities across Ontario. In fact in the 2012-13 year the Creative Communities Prosperity Fund provided $2 million to support 47 municipalities and cultural organizations across Ontario: http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/awards_funding/ccpf_recipients.shtml

Included on this list are Richmond Hill and Newmarket, Aurora is conspicuously absent.

Here is a presentation delivered by Onalee Groves the Cultural Development Officer of Barrie when they undertook their cultural mapping back in 2009: http://www.slideshare.net/erobson/cultural-mapping-in-barrie-ontario

Here is another presentation by Councilor Anne Gilbert for Chatham-Kent during the "Economies in Transition" forum in Chatham back in November of 2008:
http://www.slideshare.net/erobson/culture-economy-community-a-cultural-plan-for-chathamkent-presentation

In York Region Richmond Hill aproved their cultural plan back in 2011. It is available online here: http://www.richmondhillculturalplan.com/community-engagement/cultural-plan

And Newmarket, which continues to show Aurora up at every turn, not only has implemented their plan they have implemented an Arts & Culture Task forcce and provided a status report which can be found here: http://www.newmarket.ca/en/lifestyle/resourcelibrary/CulturalMasterPlanReportCard.pdf

If one is to return to the Town of Aurora’s recently adopted Strategic plan, specifically Objective and Action # 3 under the pillar of "Community" is to develop a cultural master plan that includes heritage, music and art to promote more cohesive and coordinated cultural services.

Whoever decided to approve ANY "cultural Services Agreement" prior to formulating and approving a master plan is has shown themselves incapable of comprehending the very concepts of strategic planning and fiscal mismanagement.

To date it has cost the town millions of dollars with little R.O.I. and the whole matter of relegating the entire town’s history into a single room the size of a shoe box is insulting and unforgivable.

After comparing other municipalities Aurora appears late to the game in undertaking such an initiative.
It is hard not to conclude that this exercise is only being undertaken to provide the horse to pull the already large cart of dung the town has created and is unable to justify.

Back in November I had the privilege of being selected to provide a stakeholder interview which was conducted by Greg Baeker.

We covered much ground during our phone call but have distilled down some key points which I will share here.

One question posed was what is already working well in cultural development in Aurora? What strengths can we build on?

I believe the Aurora Public Library has proven itself to be Aurora’s primary cultural institution, as confirmed in the Novita Report. If given the proper resources and a Private-Public partnership with a post secondary institution I could see the library expanding out to one of the buildings in Library square to run a FabLab or Maker Space as has been proven in Toronto.

I also stressed the importance of incorporating "Innovation" and "Sustainability", 2 main components of the Town’s strategic plan into all aspects of cultural development and programming.

On the flip-side when asked What are we not doing or not doing well that should be a priority for the Cultural Master Plan? What are some things were action is needed should improve? my main concern has to do with the established silos that currently purvey cultural services in the town. There needs to be much more collaboration and a greater sense of inclusiveness demonstrated by the board of directors of each of these groups.

All culture based offerings need to adopt Social Impact Bonds and Payment-by-results schemes as advanced pgs 21-23 in the "Fiscal Sustainability & The future of Public Services" report, part of the Shifting Gears series from the Mowat Centre and the School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto, supported by KPMG: http://www.kpmg.com/Ca/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/Documents/Shifting%20Gears.pdf

When asked what the biggest opportunity the Master Plan presents for Aurora? It is my belief the plan will prevent the cart before the horse situation that Aurora unfortunately finds itself in.

The "Cultural Centre" is currently located in an inappropriate venue to offer the type of programming it is attempting.

The Town needs to decentralize efforts, not centralize them as it is doing.

To engage Aurorans you need to take culture out into the community where there is a void, not expect the town to come to a central point to experience it.

Instead of a Cultural "centre", the Town needs to take culture to its boarders.

Instead of silos culture needs spreading.

Culture is not some winner takes all type of game and with the sharing economy is beginning to take hold, and cultural conservatives are the ones that are going to be left out.

These are all points which I shared when I was extended the opportunity to participate in a focus group back in December.

More on that in a future post.

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