Mayor’s Arts Visioning Committee releases recommendations for raising the profile of arts in Edmonton

arts visioningAfter eight months of consultation and hard work, the Mayor’s Arts Visioning Committee has released 12 recommendations that aim to raise Edmonton’s profile as an arts and culture hub. The City’s existing 10-year-plan, The Art of Living, provided the foundation for the committee’s work. From today’s news release:

“The committee has done a tremendous job reaching out to the community, narrowing down a wide range of ideas to come up with this list of recommendations,” said Mayor Stephen Mandel. “Their efforts show how we can work together as a community to raise the profile of arts in our city. Arts is an economic sector as well as a part of our everyday experience as Edmontonians. These recommendations provide a good place from which to start a dialogue about how we can move forward.”

The committee was co-chaired by Dianne Kipnes and Brian Webb. The first major event was held on June 21, an initial “Think Tank” that brought hundreds of Edmontonians together to brainstorm ideas and opportunities. I was fortunate enough to take part in that event, and was delighted to see so many people with such passion for the arts in Edmonton. Over the summer, a number of smaller consultation events took place. The second “Think Tank” was held on October 28. We were presented with preliminary recommendations and tasked with providing feedback. Since then, the committee has been finalizing the report.

You can download The Art of Living in PDF here, and the Arts Visioning Committee’s final report in PDF here.

Here are the 12 recommendations:

  1. MacEwan Centre for the Arts: The City of Edmonton acquire and convert MacEwan University’s west campus, the Centre for the Arts and Communications, into a multi-use, multicultural and City operated arts incubator.
  2. Rossdale Plant Redevelopment: The City of Edmonton develop the former power plant site into a landmark cultural and commercial complex on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River which must include a premier Aboriginal arts and cultural celebration centre, as well as studio, exhibit and performance space for Edmonton artists.
  3. Downtown Arts District and Performance Centre: The City of Edmonton endorse, in principle, a landmark performing arts centre (PAC) downtown, and designate land for such a development in the city core.
  4. Arts Capital Allocation: The City of Edmonton establish a capital allocation under the civic capital budget in anticipation of future opportunities to establish, enhance or acquire arts space of all types.
  5. Community Centres: The City of Edmonton create and sustain arts spaces within existing and future community recreation centres and other community spaces for creation, classes, exhibits and performance.
  6. Arts Sustainability Fund: Private and government partners establish an Edmonton Arts Sustainability Fund for small and mid-sized arts organizations to help finance business development.
  7. Arts Central: A community-led initiative, modeled after Sports Central, be supported by the City of Edmonton, to supply materials, equipment, and program support for disadavantaged and disconnected Edmontonians to pursue arts experiences.
  8. Arts and Culture Vision in City Administration: The City Manager and Edmonton Arts Council leadership develop a strategy to embed a broad vision of the arts into city planning and decision making.
  9. Multicultural Arts Outreach: The City of Edmonton increase capacity for the Edmonton Arts Council to strengthen proactive outreach programs to ensure diverse communities are engaged in decision-making throughout the city’s arts organizations and increase participation across the city.
  10. Arts in Education: The City of Edmonton takes a leadership role to invite a coalition of business, civic and community groups to strongly advocate for increased funding and emphasis on arts education in Edmonton schools and post-secondary institutions.
  11. Artists in Residence Program: The City of Edmonton and business partners increase support and awareness of the Edmonton Arts Council’s “Artist in Residence” program to enhance in-house opportunities and collaboration for artists with local businesses.
  12. Business and Arts Advisory Council: Corporate and arts community members establish a business and arts advisory committee to work with the Edmonton Arts Council to build on the 2040 arts vision and link the two communities with shared expertise, resources and ideas.

I think it is important to look further ahead, but as we all know, it’s easy to make a plan and much harder to execute on it. There’s a lot of work to do to bring these recommendations forward!

Some of these recommendations should come as no surprise. The Rossdale Plant Redevelopment was going to happen with or without this report, for instance, but specifically including arts and culture in the plans certainly makes sense. I think the Community Centres recommendation is an obvious one, and actually am a little surprised that we don’t already include space for the arts in mega-complexes like the Terwillegar Recreation Centre. I’m less excited about the Arts Capital Allocation, because I think we should leave capital funding decisions up to the Council of the day, to decide on what they think is most important for the city at the time. All the recommendations are worth considering, however.

The next step for these recommendations is for Mayor Mandel to submit them to City Council for consideration. In the meantime, save the date for the 25th Annual Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts: April 2, 2012. Nominations are now being accepted!

Recap: Mayor Mandel’s 2011 State of the City Address

Today I had the opportunity to attend the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre. Hall D was absolutely packed with government, business, and community leaders – it was a really great turnout! The keynote speaker was of course Mayor Stephen Mandel, who delivered his latest State of the City Address, which you can read in PDF here (the archive of speeches is here).

2011 State of the City
Bella Rouge performed right before Mayor Mandel delivered his address.

Mayor Mandel started off talking about the “amazing arts community in Edmonton”. He talked about the importance of cultivating and investing in our arts industry, and made it clear: “Yes arts are an industry.” He talked about a new arts visioning committee that has been struck, co-chaired by Brian Webb and Diane Kipnes, to focus on raising the profile of arts in Edmonton.

He moved on to discuss working with citizens, something I have been thinking about a lot lately. He said:

And as much as I know we have more to learn in the area of citizen input, we have undertaken more citizen discussion in the last six years than at any other point in our city’s history.

I think Mayor Mandel understands that the way we’ve been doing things isn’t working. The expectations are greater, from both citizens and from the City of Edmonton employees that work so hard on their behalf. We can definitely improve when it comes to public involvement, and I think Mayor Mandel would absolutely be supportive of any such improvements.

2011 State of the City

The big news came about halfway through the address as Mayor Mandel was thanking Premier Stelmach for his support of the city. The Province has committed $497 million in new capital funding (through Green Trip) that will enable us to finish the LRT extension to NAIT.

And today, I am very privileged to say we have received assurances from the Province that money for our NAIT line – almost $500 million in new capital funding – has been secured through Green Trip. This new capital pay-on-progress money has already started to flow with $70 million advanced in 2010 through Green Trip. The balance of the province’s commitment is now confirmed which means LRT to NAIT is right on schedule.

The official Government of Alberta news release is here.

With the approval of the City’s submission for this LRT project, the province has provided $70 million from budget 2010-11 to the City of Edmonton to cover project costs already incurred. The remaining payments will be allocated to the City as progress on construction is made.

This is a big deal in my opinion, and while it did receive a pause and applause during the address, I wish a little more time had been spent on the issue. We cannot understate the impact transit will have on transforming Edmonton into the kind of city we want and need. Mayor Mandel did acknowledge the lack of support Edmonton has received from the federal government, saying that “what’s missing is full engagement of Ottawa on the big city file.” He called for citizens to speak out on the need for an urban agenda, something I can definitely get behind.

Mayor Mandel next spent a few minutes talking about the proposed downtown arena, expressing his “sincere hope that Council will take some constructive steps forward” when the issue is discussed at tomorrow’s Council meeting. “This is a project that has the potential to accelerate our efforts to bring more people, more energy and more activity to our core,” he said.

He lost me a little as he continued talking about the other opportunities we have in the downtown core, such as the Jasper Avenue revitalization and the Walterdale Bridge replacement, saying:

Within this context a broad-based CRL becomes a tool to support our efforts across our entire downtown plan – from Jasper Ave to the Quarters, to our warehouse district. So if we move forward tomorrow on the next steps towards a new arena and entertainment district we are moving forward with this entire vision.
I do want to frame what moving forward means. It means that we establish a baseline for a lead investment in a downtown arena project by the City of Edmonton, through a portion of any combination of CRL and a user-fee, both of which can be applied to building capital. 

Tying the future of downtown to the arena project’s CRL sounds risky to me. I’m not sure if that was the intent of his remarks, but that’s what it sounded like. It’ll be interesting to see what Council decides tomorrow (if anything).

2011 State of the City

Mayor Mandel next turned his attention to the economy, noting that efforts are underway to “reconsider the role of agrifood and urban agriculture in our region.” He also suggested that our local food economy may “become the seed of a broader economic effort.” He declared Edmonton’s economic future as “bright” but noted that we need to work hard to ensure we realize those opportunities.

He concluded by focusing on his key message, “that there is so much incredible opportunity here.” In particular, I really like his statement:

The best plans in the world, are really only this, until they are realized.

We actually have to do something about them (hence the second pillar of The Edmonton Champions Project: Connect, Do, Win). I think under Mayor Mandel’s leadership we have gotten better at this, but there’s still room for improvement.

2011 State of the City2011 State of the City

Throughout his speech, Mayor Mandel talked about the need for “a higher level of integration and collaboration.” He mentioned it a few times, almost more than “creativity” which seems to be his usual favorite word. I thought he did a good job of highlighting how working together can really make a difference, citing examples such as the Homeless Commission, REACH Edmonton, and the progress the Capital Region Board has made.

Given that there’s a federal election going on, I was particularly interested in Mayor Mandel’s comments on the relationship with the federal government, which we know has been strained at times. To start, he talked about the partnership with the Province and the success it has achieved:

It is based on understanding that municipal government, which is closest to the people is best to lead on key projects and that choosing an aligned path is better for our common citizen.

Then he made it clear – “it is also the message that our City must send to Ottawa through all parties and all MPs.”

All in all it was a great lunch and an uplifting address. My thanks to Robin Bobocel and the Edmonton Chamber for allowing me to join them for lunch today! You can see my photos from today here.

Will Edmonton be a second-class city without the new arena?

Last week City Council was again discussing the proposed downtown arena. Though Administration provided an update at the Wednesday meeting, it certainly didn’t feel like much new information was brought forward. Details on the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) were delayed yet again, this time until the first week of April. The meeting did not go well.

Mayor Mandel seemed to be upset that progress had stalled. He wants Council to make a decision in the next month or so:

“It’s enough already. I think we’re going around too many circles and let’s make a decision.”

But there was another comment he made that stood out:

“Either we build a new arena or we become a second-class city, which in my mind we don’t want to be.”

I’ll admit that comment even surprised me. Does Mandel really think we can’t be a first-class city without building the new arena? Is the project really a make-or-break one for Edmonton? Boosterism has long been a part of this debate, something Dave covered back in January. And as our Mayor I think Mandel needs to be Edmonton’s greatest champion, a role he has definitely not shied away from while in office. But is there no hope for Edmonton if the arena project doesn’t go ahead?

“My choice of words probably wasn’t right,” Mandel admitted when I asked him about it. “It’s just that when opportunities come up, you have to make a decision. Edmonton in the past hasn’t made an effort to seize opportunities that have come up.” It’s a good point, I think. You can’t simply wait for things to come along, you have to go out and get them. If we want to take Edmonton forward, we need to make a concerted effort to do so. “You’ve got to fight for things,” Mandel said.

Mandel stressed the need to improve our downtown. “Cities are evaluated by their downtowns, not their suburbs. Edmonton’s downtown has a long way to go.” I asked if that meant we had to have the arena. “There’s millions of ingredients that go into it,” he said. The arts community and our IT sector were just a few of the examples he cited. He of course thinks the arena is one of those ingredients, however. “The arena with a good financial deal will make Edmonton better.”

Stephen Mandel at Candi{date} Sept 29, 2010

When discussions get intense, people say things without fully thinking them through. I think that’s what happened to Mandel last week with the second-class comment, but he’s certainly not the only one who has made regrettable comments. Is it true that “the anti-arena faction is out in full force” as David Staples suggested (archive) a couple of weeks ago? I think it is, and there have certainly been some puzzling comments from them as well. The debate needs people on both sides, to help us tease out the details and ultimately arrive at the best decision for Edmonton. Mandel has decided to support the arena. Others have decided to fight it. A good debate is healthy for Edmonton.

On Saturday, Gary Lamphier writing in the Edmonton Journal reminded us that there are many key questions about the project that have yet to be answered (archive):

Although Mayor Stephen Mandel seems determined to wrap up the Seinfeldian arena "debate" — such as it is — in early April and push the project ahead at Mach speed, it’s hard to see why with so many key questions unresolved.

With weeks to go before a pivotal report on the project is presented to city council — following which councillors may have little time to reflect on it before they vote — it’s puzzling that so many key questions remain unanswered.

Today, Danny Hooper writing in the Edmonton Sun offered some compelling reasons to move ahead with the project (archive):

We are not the arctic outpost some think of us. This is a vibrant, energetic, resourceful, caring, and fun community, yet I don’t think our downtown best makes that statement. And I think it should.

Where some see a downtown that feels dull, disjointed, and at times lifeless, I see a blank canvas. The Katz group have at least brought out the paint and offered their vision of what our city centre could be. Of what it should be. And we’re all welcome to pick up a brush.

Maybe it comes down to perspective, as is so often the case with difficult questions such as this one. Do you choose to see the arena as Mayor Mandel does, as an opportunity to enhance our downtown that we should at least make an effort to capitalize on? Or do you choose to see the arena as those against the project do, as an expensive pet project that will do little to help Edmonton’s core?

There are no guarantees in this debate. Edmonton will not be relegated to “second-class” status if the project dies, nor will Edmonton automatically be world-renowned if it goes ahead. There’s obviously no secret recipe either, or we’d have already turned downtown around. Whether you support the arena or not, it’s important to recognize that revitalizing our downtown and becoming the city we want to be will take much more than any single project.