Residents spend cultural time & $ outside city

Cultural action Plan report to committee March 27

Encouraging residents to spend their cultural time and money in Burlington, and hiring a full-time staff resource devoted to culture are just some of the preliminary recommendations in the Cultural Action Plan for Burlington, prepared by CoBALT Connects.

A summary of their research over the past year, and some draft recommendations, are included in a report being considered by city council’s Community Services Committee March 27. Following discussion at committee, there will be additional public input and preparation of a final set of recommendations later this year.

Spending outside city

CoBALT’s research found that residents spent about $591 per capita per year ($103.8M annually) on cultural activities, which is $54 below the national average in 2006. Residents spent most of that money, and cultural time, outside Burlington. Only 32% of their cultural money and 37% of the cultural time is spent by Burlington residents in Burlington, preferring Hamilton and Toronto instead.

The opportunity for the community is to recapture some of this spending locally.

Residents like free activities at home

The top rated places for cultural activity in the city, as identified by residents, are (in order of priority): parks & open spaces, the waterfront, library system, community centres, boards (Performing Arts Centre, Burlington Arts Centre, Museums), and festivals.

The data suggests residents engage in “free or affordable activities at home, and more expensive ones elsewhere,” says CoBALT’s report. “This not only presents a problem for the local providers as they struggle to develop earned revenue streams, but also for the municipality as the go-to source for subsidizing activities focused on residents.”

Waterfront, downtown top cultural spots

The waterfront is a top draw

The waterfront is a top draw

Collectively the waterfront was the highest prioritized space by residents from across the community. In addition, the downtown was recognized widely as the central hub of traditionally defined culture in Burlington. Some of the challenges to developing the downtown as a cultural hub include availability of affordable space for cultural engagement (i.e. store fronts, galleries), perceived lack of affordable parking, and the lack of connective elements to identify a cultural district (wayfinding, public art).

Many residents also felt that Village Square presented an incredible opportunity for cultural development if the property owners were amenable to the idea.

Healthy Creative Class

Burlington has a healthy presence of the “creative class” in terms of cultural organizations and people employed in creative industries, according to the CoBALT findings. About 3% of the population is engaged in cultural employment which is about the same as the national and provincial averages.

Burlington has 430 companies in the creative industry, including Marketing & Communications (76), Video & Audio Production (54), Graphic Design (50), Publishing (37), and Photography (33).

In addition, there are 33 Community Cultural Organizations, most focused on performing arts (theatre, dance, music) and historical activities.

The city is involved in delivering culture through direct delivery of programs at the Music Centre, Teen Tour Band, and Student Theatre; through partnerships with Drury Lane Theatre and Theatre Burlington; and through funding the Burlington Art Centre, Museums of Burlington, and the Performing Arts Centre.

The City’s only direct grants go to the Sound of Music and small requests to community delivered festival in partnership.

All told, these groups offer 89,000+ hours of cultural programming offered to all ages, $3.42M in earned revenue from ticket sales and paid experiences, and $729,000 in fundraising and in-kind support.

The city spends $3.5M, or about $20/person on culture, counting operating and capital funds for various organizations, as well as contributions to festivals, events and community programming.

Residents favour city $ for festivals, parks, community centres

In order of priority residents support municipal contributions to art via festivals and events (81%), parks (78%), community centres & programming (72%), libraries (69%); cultural facilities (67%), public art (58%), funding local non-profit groups (58%), and providing programs and services to foster cultural diversity (58%).

Some preliminary actions for City Hall to improve cultural activity in the city include:

• Designate at least one full-time Cultural Planner position within Parks & Recreation

• Determine a long-term approach to cultural management with either internal (city) or external leadership

• Invest $1 per capita in cultural leadership in 2014, growing to $2 per capita by 2017

• Develop a structure for small community grants for emerging culture to access signature facilities

• Create a Community Cultural Roundtable to prepare an implementation plan for the recommendations

• Publish an annual (or twice annual) Cultural Guide, similar to the Recreation Guide but strictly cultural offerings

• Create a Community Culture Fund via the Burlington Community Foundation to act as a central donations point for city-wide cultural activities

• Develop a community-wide governance training program and professional development fund for Boards of core organizations.

My Take: I believe municipal spending on culture should foster local cultural groups and activities, in the same way that our parks and recreation investments support local sports and leisure programming for local residents. I’m open to creating an arm’s length body to provide grants or other supports to local artists. A cultural roundtable and cultural guide are good ideas. I’m not sold on the internal staff position – we’ve got to determine first whether management of culture is internal (city lead) or external (community lead). I’d prefer the latter model, with participation and partnership from the city.

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