My city, Mississauga, located in Ontario, Canada, is a new city - only 30 years young. It is remarkably, for being so young, Canada's 6th largest city. It has many wonderful attributes - a diverse, multicultural population made up of wonderful involved citizens and great neighbors, clean streets, safe environment, libraries galore, terrific hospitals, varied work opportunity, and it is debt free.
What does this have to do with art?
Mississauga's past focus on rapid growth - from it's bedroom community image amongst farm fields, to a city with a spanking brand new skyline, white collar industry, and the largest shopping centre east of West Edmonton Mall, is not a bad thing. Most people want a nice roof over their head and nice places to work and shop.
30 years ago to own a car and a suburban home was hot, and so this city was not built around culture, public transportation, and education. Attracting builders and developers and keeping the tax base low, thanks to them, was. Museums and places of art just weren't included in the equation.
The result? Rapid growth didn’t save room for all those quirky, interesting, and traditionally low rent spaces where artists of all sorts can set up shop to create, practice, incubate, mentor, promote, exhibit. There are plenty of places for children or hobbyists to take extracurricular arts courses of all types, thanks to the commitment of the city to create community centres. But for citizens, whose compulsion to create is as vital to their existence as breathing, are there are a lot of talented Mississauga artists out there, there is an extreme lack of venues to work, show, sell, create, perform, incubate etc. One must either leave, compromise, or give up.
Then along came hope and the promise of Vision - for the Good of the City as well as its Artists.
3 years ago Mississauga, i.e., its Mayor Hazel McCallion, and Council did something rather amazing. Even though culture was not highest on their mandate, they recognized, (and the recent literature of the time proved) how cities need art and culture to be healthy . Mayor McCallion , in particular , is infamous for her passion for the city. Like a devoted parent, she decided that if her city needed arts and culture to grow, even if it wasn't her thing in particular, she would do her darndest to help it.
Through an incredibly inspired and citizen inclusive process the following happened.
The Mayor invited unbiased, respected and knowledgeable movers and shakers to voluntarily serve on an Arts Review Task Force . ARTF held town hall meetings for every arts group & individual on what was negative &/or positive for the arts in this city. They listened. From this information, the ARTF formed a incredibly comprehensive report of recommendations for the city - one of the recommendations being the formation of the Office of the Arts & Culture. The Council accepted and lauded the report. A momentous day, a foot in the door of hope for artists.
Next came the formation of the Office of the Arts and Culture (OAC). More listening to the arts community needs, some growing pains, a little reorganizing.
The OAC then hired the Canadian Urban Institute who held a free, incredible speakers series - "A Conversation About Building A City For The 21st Century" . This series offered attendees the opportunity to hear what different visionaries thought about Mississauga's future.
As an artist, and advocate for low cost art spaces for artists, I particularly liked the evening Dr. Roberta Bondar, astronaut, physician and photographer, shared the stage with Tim Jones, executive director of Artscape, a company specializing in building creative communities. My optimism for the arts and Mississauga itself actually grows.
Next, Mississauga citizens - yes, everyone!- were invited to attend workshops, and round table discussions about how they viewed their city. They got to speak their minds on exactly what it is they wanted.
In 2009, the UIC, after more calls to the public and arts communities, made bang on recommendations for the OAC to create their strategic plan. This plan will be presented to Mississauga Council on April Fool's Day, 2009. Surely, this inspired visioning, offering such hope to the city's arts community will not turn out to be a trick.