Continuing to advocate for the arts

By Dan White – Special to the Sydenham Current

Since my last column, two weeks ago, a great many things have happened.

My column was read by someone at the Ontario Arts Council and referenced in an email to the Alliance of Arts Councils of Ontario.

Following that, I received a request for information by the Globe and Mail.

I deferred to people far more knowledgeable about the Ontario Arts Council and the planned $10,000,000 funding cut by the Ford Government than myself and it would appear a number of people raised their voices against this decision and the government has since backed down and will maintain funding to the OAC at its current level.

You may think this has no impact in smaller communities like Wallaceburg, but the OAC offers funding to arts organizations and artists and there is actually a pool of funding that is set aside specifically for areas outside the large cities.

As the new chair of the CK Arts and Culture Network (CKACN), I will be leading a very good board to access funding for projects across the entire county.

Two projects new ventures are at the end of this column.

For me the most important point of the Globe and Mail contact is that a minor column, in a small community, by an average human, can be heard… and be a part of making a difference.

Dave and I often assume very few people actually read this column… but to some small degree, as a result of this column, there was attention given to the arts across the country in a Globe and Mail column that supported the need for governments to support arts.

Because I write this column, act and direct, play tuba in a couple of local groups and create videos you may think that speaking publicly about things I am passionate about and believe in is easy.

It is not.

I try very hard to ensure my facts are actually facts, not hearsay and that I am fair but clear.

Still, I open myself up for criticism by speaking out.

However, the cost of remaining silent is far greater.

Here are a few interesting statistics: According to the stats Can website dating 2010… the most current stats I was able to find, (sadly)

Sports in Ontario represent 0.6 percent of the jobs and 0.4 percent of the provincial GDP while arts and culture represent 4.1 percent of jobs and 3.7 percent of GDP in the province.

CK has, at a quick count, 96 sports venues and just 16 arts and culture venues.

That’s five times as many venues for sports. Yet, arts and culture are often an afterthought – as seen in the recently unveiled Chatham and Wallaceburg development plans.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in sports and rec and its value to a community for physical and mental wellbeing and quality of life. However, arts and culture contribute to mental health, have been proven to help our minds as we age, foster healthy living and are an asset when attempting to attract people to a community.

London, Ontario realized this and worked to become recognized as Canada’s first Unesco City of Music in November of 2021.

This effort has paid off in tourism and the overall quality of life in that city.

The Forest City benefits from over 4,000 live events annually and financial benefits well into the double-digit millions.

Yet here in CK there are long term development plans that either omit or diminish arts and culture.

I hear Mayor Canniff stating emphatically that the Kiwanis Theatre will remain open and I believe that he wants that.

However, we haven’t seen it in writing and unfortunately, he is only one of 18 voices on council.

The CKACN submitted questions to council on July 8, 2022 and not one member of council has taken the opportunity to respond in writing to the questions posed regarding the future of the Chatham Cultural Centre.

Recently we were asked to respond to questions posed by Nustadia, the Hamilton based developer planning the Downtown Community Centre in Chatham.

We were asked to respond to these questions along with representatives of the gallery and museum housed in the Chatham Cultural Centre and we took a great deal of time in considering our responses.

They can be seen on our Facebook page

The responses were sent to all levels of government on March 19, posted on our Facebook page on March 21 and as I write this it is very early on March 23, (Happy Birthday Erin! My daughter is celebrating her big day today!) and we have no acknowledgement of receipt of the responses by a single member of Council.

If and when there are responses we will post it on our FB page.

We don’t expect everyone to agree with us, but we do want to have a conversation and be a voice for the arts.

Once again, I would encourage readers who care about arts and culture in their community to contact politicians and express that support.

If you stay silent, it is easy to assume you don’t care.

Arts events around town:

Last week the Wallaceburg Brass Quintet released its 8th video.

This was our first venture to promote and support a local business.

Todd Shepley and his team at Glasstown Brewing have been wonderful supporters of the arts already and as they prepare to open their doors, we wanted to help them celebrate so we created a video filmed in the building while it was still under construction.

Here is the link and in the next few weeks we will release an extended quintet version.

We hope you enjoy the sneak peak into the building.

May 7 and 8 the CKACN is hosting a studio Tour across CK.

Wallaceburg resident, world class artist and CKACN board member, Troy Brooks is on the committee and will be on the 20 studio tour.

Stay tuned for further details on this exciting venture.

In the next few months CKACN also plans to start creating a monthly podcast featuring local artists.

The Wallaceburg Concert Band and Wallaceburg Brass Quintet will be hosting a “Who Done It” pre Mothers’ Day dinner theatre on May 13 at the UAW Hall.

Stay tuned for ticket info and more details.

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