|Today's date: Saturday May 25, 2013||Vol 46 Issue 21|
We Cover The County...
Enthusiasm catches Centre Wellington council over municipal cultural plan
by Mike Robinson
Elizabeth Bender’s enthusiasm for Centre Wellington’s culture may be a sign of the community’s future economic health.
Centre Wellington’s municipal cultural planning coordinator was before council’s committee of the whole on Sept. 10 updating councillors on the municipal cultural plan project.
Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj called the presentation “rather exciting because after a long, long many months of work, we are so pleased to have Elizabeth Bender here to update council on the Municipal Cultural Plan.”
She noted Bender has had numerous contacts within the community, “and you are about to bring this plan to us ... almost complete.”
“We’re moving ahead.”
Part of her presentation included a slide show representing various cultural aspects of Centre Wellington.
“It was approximately one year ago that you authorized me to complete a cultural planning project with the support of a provincial grant. Now with the project just over halfway complete, it’s really great to be providing some updates.”
She said the slide show illustrated numerous cultural aspects and activities within the Centre Wellington community.
Bender said, “The Centre Wellington Cultural Planning project has been an opportunity to identify our local cultural assets and examine the Centre Wellington story. We are looking at recognizing what makes us unique, some of our strengths and what is Centre Wellington’s identity.”
She said “this gives us a chance to look at our priorities and opportunities moving forward.”
The completed plan will help to guide where the community is going with numerous economic and community benefits.
“Our definition of culture is quite broad. We have included everything from arts to agriculture, festivals and events, quaint downtowns, the Grand River and natural features; to our built heritage and sport and recreation. We’ve kept it broad and all-encompassing on purpose.”
She said one of the goals was to engage the entire community in the discussions.
Bender said the process is one which will be ongoing.
Another major outcome will be the creation of a cultural map which includes a detailed inventory of cultural treasures presented as a comprehensive online map.
Right now, that inventory has 1,650 items, she said.
The mapping will involve layering of different categories “to make it a really great tool for Centre Wellington.”
Bender added, “the last outcome is the creation of a guide for the township’s economic and cultural growth.”
She said, “Centre Wellington is forecasted to grow significantly in the next 20 years. By undertaking this cultural planning process now and by acknowledging, promoting and ultimately integrating a cultural mindset into our strategic and official planning processes, we really can use culture to support the growth of a creative Centre Wellington community.”
She said “the examination of who we are; celebrating what makes us a unique and vibrant community; and sharing that with those who live, work, play and visit Centre Wellington “will be one of the greatest things we can do.”
She pointed to a brochure regarding municipal cultural planning which is something the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sport had created.
Part of that is the business case for cultural planning.
“Culture helps communities prosper.”
She stated, “A vibrant cultural scene generates economic activity, creates prosperous cultural industries, attracts major employers and new residents.”
She added, “Culture transforms. It has the power to transform the individual and the community’s society and economy.”
She said that culture has the potential to revitalize the economy of downtowns by attracting tourism and business.
Bender added that it helps to create a sense of pride in the community.
“Residents feel a pride in the community’s unique landmarks and history.”
She also said such projects also help build a sense of community, “and celebrates the culture that we have.”
“Sharing our greatest assets and successes, promoting our sense of place loud and clear, and planning for culture as we grow, will call attention and draw people to our community. Really – if you build it, they will come.”
Centre Wellington is already culturally rich and a destination for the creative economy and it will be advantageous for the municipality to sustain and build on this advantage.
Bender acknowledged the support of the partners in the project.
She noted the various roundtable discussions and workshops which brought various groups discussing what was great about the community and looking at priorities.
“I cannot express how amazing those opportunities have been.”
Other aspects of the project have been wildly successful, Bender said.
“It’s amazing to see what people have to say about their community and what is so great about it.”
She also briefly discussed various partnerships and the creation of a cultural contact list resulting from the roundtable discussion.
“Already people are using it as a resource to connect to others.”
Bender said work continues with the consultant next week drafting vision statements and action plans.
“We’re going to be using all the wonderful cultural assets in the inventory to create the cultural map.”
She noted the draft plan will be taken to the community, and others community stakeholders for review looking for additional ideas and feedback.
Plans are also in the works for the first cultural days celebration.
Bender said, “we’ve literally spoken with hundreds, possibly thousands of people during this process.”
Some of the more unique assets identified within the community include:
- Pilkington lookout and the cricket club in Inverhaugh,
- the dog park in Ennotville; and,
- the Fergus-Elora buried valley.
Bender commented that apparently there is a second gorge which would put the familiar one to shame.
In terms of the planning process, people were asked what excites them about cultural planning.
“We’re hearing that people are excited to be consulted about the definition, and breadth of culture.”
At the same time, residents have been asked their concerns.
One of the concerns is that without a concrete commitment by the municipality, this could be a wasted exercise.
She said similar projects have sat on a shelf.
Another major concern, Bender said, is that if the non-profit groups do not start networking better, some of the great things accomplished will not survive.
“We have so many great and wonderful things going on. But from the smallest to largest group, we were hearing the same thing.”
Bender also listed other key issues:
- the availability of cultural resources;
- municipal leadership to encourage and support cultural initiatives;
- publicity and promotion;
- networking opportunities; and,
Bender said the municipality needs to make culture a budget line to help define funding.
She noted the call for support is out there, but is not necessarily just dollars.
Bender noted that one hot topic in the past few weeks has been the Fergus library and downtown revitalization project.
“It really is a great example of municipal cultural planning working.”
Centre Wellington is growing.
“Libraries really are a hub of cultural activity.”
She said that by agreeing in principle to the work requested by Wellington County, “it really is an opportunity to make a decision now which will have a significant impact on our cultural future.”
Bender said “what is already a great space in Centre Wellington has the potential of becoming an ever better space.”
She noted another example is the upcoming Centre Wellington Cultural Days - part of a national event - created as an initiative celebrating people in local communities.
She formally invited councillors to celebrate in the events from Sept. 28 to 30 throughout the municipality.
Bender said council’s participation would allow them to connect with the community and show their support for culture.
“The momentum for the project has been great and the appreciation of culture in the community is completely overwhelming.”
“I look at Centre Wellington and I think we are so lucky we live in such a culturally rich place. I sometimes fear we take that for granted.”
Municipal cultural planning is key - “we need to be actively, consciously thinking about what makes us so great so that we can protect, nurture and enrich this place we call home.”
Council received the Centre Wellington’s Municipal Cultural Plan - Project Status Report from the Municipal Cultural Planning Coordinator as information.
Mayor Ross-Zuj responded, “I’m so excited about everything you were talking about.”
She said “it’s not dollars, it’s people who make the difference.”
Councillor Kelly Linton added that he believed this was a great project.
He was involved in some of the workshops.
One of the items which stood out, was a discussion which looked at the role of municipal government and the importance of knowing when to be involved and when to get out of the way.
“As a government it is important to know where we should strategically place ourselves, and when to get out of the way.”
He asked what steps council can take to ensure this plan doesn’t sit on a shelf.
“It’s not going to do that,” Ross-Zuj responded.
Bender said she already saw some important recommendations coming forward which will make implementing the plan easier.
The report was accepted as information.
September 14, 2012
The Wellington Advertiser
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