By Rob Uhrig, Councillor, Municipality of Meaford
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the Role of the Arts: Strengthening Local Economies and Creativity forum. I strongly believe that arts and culture can be the foundation that the Southern Georgian Bay region can build on to create a mutually beneficial economic development strategy.
The Institute identified five relevant points, and I hope to add some perspective from the always-exciting political angle, so please bear with me as I address these topics through a municipal lens.
1) Integration between the arts and tourism sectors: I would add a third puzzle piece, the political sector. Arts and culture should be an integral part of any discussion regarding a municipality’s economic development and tourism strategy. There is plenty of room and opportunity for sport, recreation and arts and culture to not just coexist, but cooperate under the municipal umbrella.
2) Impact of the arts organizations and projects on the local economy: It’s difficult to quantify the impact over the past couple of years due to the pandemic, but in 2019, the arts & culture sector represented $28.7 billion, or 3.5% of Ontario’s Gross National Product, and over 300,000 jobs, 4.1% of the province’s total employment.
Additionally, arts and culture tourists are more likely to travel to experience events, and they spend more when they do…on average, the arts and culture tourist will spend twice as much per visit, $667 compared to $374, for the typical tourist.
- While providing direct economic benefits to communities – by creating jobs, attracting investments, generating tax revenues, and stimulating local economies through tourism and consumer purchases – studies show there is a strong relationship between art & culture and education as it improves both personal and academic success, from the beginning of a child’s education right through to adulthood and their career.
- Arts and culture also promote community participation, with an estimated 107 million volunteer hours across Canada, the equivalent to approximately 56,000 full time jobs! As two examples of the economic power of regional volunteerism, the Meaford Culture Foundation, in its 14-year history, has injected almost $1 million back into the community, while the Meaford Apple Harvest Craft Show has pumped another $1 million since its inception 35 years ago.
- Even in trying times, tourism was still a vital contributor to the economy. During the international pandemic travel ban, many people discovered, or rediscovered, our region. In 2020, the Meaford Chamber of Commerce tracked visitors and found an almost 30% increase during this period. What impact this had on Meaford’s subsequent growth is difficult to say, but we went from having $25 million in planned development projects on the books in 2020 to $100 million in 2021!
3) Engaging with arts advocates and champions at a municipal level (both administration and council members): Municipal councils and staff need to be reminded, or in some cases, educated, as to the intrinsic value arts and culture brings to the community.
Cultural leaders and advocates need to champion and lobby local councils for recognition, acceptance, and funding to support their initiatives and forge alliances to grow culture, not just in their region, but with their neighbours as well. Cultural cooperation between communities and organizations benefits all.
4) Creating paid opportunities for artists living within the region: When it comes to defining economic impact, it’s difficult for some people to envision beyond major industrial entities. The reality is, it’s very difficult for small, rural communities to attract large corporate employers, and because arts and culture are often widespread on a micro level, they are an almost invisible influence.
Local artists and cultural organizations are often the unheralded heroes providing entertainment and festivals that attract tourists who fill our hotels, businesses, restaurants, and performance spaces. Municipalities need to embrace, encourage, and support these entities as the invaluable assets they are with improved financial access to municipal facilities and appropriate funding for services rendered. This will only happen if they truly understand the potential financial and social reward. It’s the responsibility of arts and cultural advocates to educate the public and local governing bodies as to the advantages these bodies and activities provide to the community.
5) Utilizing the SGB Arts Network for resource sharing and mentoring opportunities for ensuring success: Awareness and communication are keys to growing arts and culture throughout our entire region, and individual artists and organizations often struggle with advertising, both financially and technologically. Every region in Southern Georgian Bay could assist with that messaging by utilizing a communal arts and culture calendar that could be shared throughout the region to cross-promote activities.
I discussed this initiative with the municipality of Meaford, and there is interest, so I approached the Southern Georgian Bay Arts Network, as I believe they could be instrumental in implementing and administering such a vehicle. Think of the value that a shared online calendar, which could be simply plugged into municipal, arts organizations, and other websites, could provide for promoting regional tourism. Individual artists, groups or organizations could upload their events, while the user could filter the information geographically to plan their own art, film festival or performance tours throughout the area. The technology exists to grow arts and culture throughout Southern Georgian Bay… we just need the vision and cooperation to make it a reality.