London’s cultural community brings with it $530 million per year in direct contribution to the local economy, helps power 1,298 cultural industries and creates 7,703 jobs in the city.
Those numbers were unveiled during the Creative City Committee meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 30) where reports on both the city’s Cultural Prosperity Plan and the London Cultural Profile were presented. The reports detail not only the economic impact of culture, but also the new database that has been created to map out just where, and what, London’s cultural community includes.
However, despite the impact culture has on the community, both in an economic and quality of life sense, the key question these plans have to answer — at least in the mind of Mayor Joe Fontana — is why so many people are disconnected from that prosperity.
“I think there is a terrible disconnect even though all the mapping shows we have a critical mass of talent and facilities,” Fontana said. “Sometimes people on council say my people over here don’t relate to what is happening over there. That is our greatest challenge as a city. Arts and culture is about identity and really benefits everyone.”
Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert said he liked the “broad strokes” of the plans, adding they seem to fit the council vision of a City of Opportunity. However, he did call for — as did the mayor and committee chair and Ward 13 Councillor Judy Bryant — swift implementation of the data that has been collected.
“We have a bazillion plans in this city, we have great ideas in this city, but for crying out loud, I would rather have 80 percent implementation than 20 percent waiting for the perfect plan,” Hubert said. “Culture Days, Doors Open, all those sorts of things have proven to be a touchdown and are helping us with the awareness piece.”
Antonio Gomez, a consultant with Dialog, the design company that helped bring together the Cultural Prosperity Plan, said he agreed with the need to move forward and “take action” around the report. Gomez echoed and the mayor’s point that more needs to be done to convince London residents, skeptical about arts and culture, that it does indeed matter to their daily lives.
“A big aspect of this is an awareness generation piece, making sure everyone realizes this has meaning and they have an opportunity to benefit from it,” Gomez said. “People will realize the events they go to, the event they were trying to organize, they feel included, like there is a diversity of opportunity, and that is where the leveraging takes place.”
Sean Quigley, executive director of Emerging Leaders, said the reports made certain points clear — that culture has is “a huge economic impact” on the city and that it is essential for attracting and retaining talent.
“If that is the one message London residents get, then it will be a serious win. Because that isn’t the common reception,” Quigley said.
Andrea Hallam, executive director of London Heritage Council, was even more confident than Quigley, saying she is “100 percent confident” that important change will be generated by the report.
Hallam said the reports laid out some very important facts surrounding the city’s cultural community, including just what the city has — both in the public and private sector — and the impact they have. In addition, the database of 9,000 resources is something she said will prove invaluable moving forward.
“People said they wanted programming in the culture plan, so now we can marry that all up. We will be pulling all these pieces together,” Hallam said. “We have all this information now and we can get down to brass tacks, actually take it all down and write an implementation plan. That is the key; that we are actually going to do this.”
Andrea Halwa, executive director of London Arts Council, echoed that point. Halwa said the city’s cultural community has a “proven track record” in making recommendations — such as those contained in the original Creative Cities Task Force Report — come to fruition.
In fact, Halwa said that track record isn’t just on implementing policy, but making real change on the ground and finding success with it.
“We launched one of the largest celebration of culture in Canada, in Culture Days, and London came out shining,” Halwa said. “We were one of the largest cities in Canada. That wasn’t the arts council. That was the arts community; that was the culture community.”
Robin Armistead, the city’s manager culture and municipal policy, said the work of building an implementation plan will begin immediately. The reports will be melded with existing resources and bring forward the goals such as integrating with London’s Strategic Plan, promotion of culture as a key economic and quality of life driver, fostering creativity and building awareness of the city’s vast array of cultural programming.
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