Don’t Divest from Community

Open Letter to Barrie City Council

When healthcare professionals and businesses with high paying jobs can locate anywhere, why should they move to Barrie? What makes Barrie, or any other place, attractive?

Geography, available infrastructure and amenities, existing businesses – these are all really important, but there’s more. We understand this so well in Barrie, we made it our motto: The People are the City.

In typical Canadian self-deprecating fashion, many in Barrie dismiss the notion that we have a culture here as unique as our people. This was a larger Canadian habit until recent years.

With the foundation of the Canada Council for the Arts in the late 1950s, and Canadian Content Regulations in the late 1960s, generations of Canadians have grown up with a different take on Canadian culture. We are proud of our musicians, composers, authors, actors and comedians, visual artists, dancers, filmmakers and animators – all represented on the international stage.

At the same time, most in Barrie would agree we’re not the same as Orillia or Elmvale, let alone (and heaven forfend) Toronto.

The arts give voice to community, our beliefs and ideals, our passions and compassion. We can adopt Toronto’s, or tell our own stories and sing our own songs.

If the artists and arts organization in Barrie are guilty of anything, it is youthfulness. Though we have many important long standing cultural institutions, most of Barrie’s cultural workers are relatively new here. Our voice, like the culture sector itself, is maturing.

The past years of support the city has provided, especially through the vision of the Cultural Plan, has bolstered our burgeoning cultural economy. There is little as reassuring as the backing of your own city, your own community.

Likewise, cuts are sharply felt.

Beyond the money – which is as vital as it is modest – municipal cultural grants are a clear indicator to other funding sources that the recipient has local support and recognition. It helps secure more investment, both public and private.

Art is business, from tiny to megastar. In Canada, culture was a $84.6 billion industry in 2007, with a 300% rate of return on public investment. Just this week, Toronto’s fiscally conservative Mayor Rob Ford voted in favour of a $6 million increase in arts investment. Sure, we could skip this 7.4% of real GDP, and just let the GTA have it all. But at what cost?

Imagine Barrie for a moment, without the Spirit Catcher or cenotaph, without the MacLaren, Mady, Georgian Theatre, without professional and community theatre companies, without bands, choirs, soloists, chamber groups and symphonies, without ballet, contemporary and modern dance troupes, without live music in bars and poetry readings in coffee shops, without art galleries and artist’s studios, without recording studios and publishers, music and bookstores, without schools for dance, drama, film, media arts, music, musical theatre, visual art, without hymn or scripture.

Now hold that barren image in your mind and ask: who would choose to move there?

Don’t divest from our community: restore the modest Cultural Grants budget.

damian lopes

Barrie Arts and Culture Council

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