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Economies in Transition: Leveraging Cultural Assets for Prosperity

February 13, 201013 February 2010

Culture in small and rural communities

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This report summarizes the results of three forums in Ontario (Brockville, Chatham and Minett / Muskoka) about municipal cultural planning. The forums were designed to “build awareness of the value and economic development opportunity” presented by cultural planning, to demonstrate community examples and success stories, as well as to identify tools and barriers in implementing municipal cultural planning.

The report, which provides background information about municipal cultural planning, highlights the fact that “many rural and small town communities have a wide range of cultural assets (creative occupations, facilities and spaces, community organizations, cultural heritage, natural heritage, festivals and events, creative industries/businesses) that could form the foundation for attracting and supporting creative sector businesses and jobs”.

Forum participants noted the importance of “validating the various forms of local cultural expression”, “celebrating community uniqueness”, as well as “building social capital, grassroots involvement, and nurturing community in the broadest sense”. Collaboration and partnerships are important at many levels, including within a municipality or community, among municipal governments, as well as between municipalities, the community and cultural organizations.

In some communities, there is a limited awareness and appreciation of culture from rural governments and residents.

Common definitions of key terminology are a key challenge: terms such as creative, culture, community, assets and mapping “are not used consistently within discussion of MCP [municipal cultural planning] or between cultural and other sectors.” In addition, there “is a lack of shared consistency when it comes to the definition of MCP, how MCP differs from or complements cultural planning, planning for culture, creative city planning and the creative economy.”

Other key challenges and issues for local communities are:

· “Inadequate private sector access to capital”;

· “Insufficient human and financial capacity at the municipal level to effectively integrate culture into municipal planning”;

· Municipal leadership and champions;

· Stronger regional, provincial and federal policy frameworks or strategies;

· Tools and training to deal with initial questions such as “What is culture in our community?”, “What should cultural planning look like in my community?” and “Who should be involved?”;

· Limited research, performance measures and indicators on the economic, environmental and social impacts of culture, especially in rural contexts;

· Meaningful community engagement in the process, including youth, aboriginal communities, newcomers and various sectors of the community; and

· The preservation of local cultural assets.

In order to build (and share) the case for culture, the report recommends the development of evidence regarding the value of culture and, more specifically, rural investments in culture. This research should be supported by a communications strategy that is targeted to government, the private sector, key organizations and the public.

In order to support and improve rural cultural planning, the report recommends the development of a policy framework for culture as well as provincial incentives and funding for “capacity building, planning and preservation/restoration”. For example, “financial instruments and lending programs must be developed to provide private-sector access to funds for the ‘adaptive reuse and rebuilding of historical or cultural structures'”.

For local capacity-building, tools are required to measure economic impact, develop cultural tourism, map cultural assets and develop cultural products.

Planners themselves are counselled to “ensure an inclusive, community-based approach” to planning, “develop strategies to involve youth and integrate culture into the school curriculum”, and “share ongoing successes and challenges”.

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