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We All Have A Say In The Future Of Ontario's Culture Strategy

11/19/2015 02:13 EST | Updated 11/19/2016 05:12 EST
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In a world where a two-way exchange between government and citizen is the goal, it's encouraging when we see it actually happening.

Like, actually.

Since the end of September, there have been a number of interactions and calls for insights from citizens.

The end goal is to create the first ever comprehensive culture strategy for the province of Ontario.

What is culture, you ask? Well, according to the Ontario government, it is "all the ways we remember, tell and celebrate our stories, and present and interpret the stories of others." Discussion paper is here.

The process wishes to use guiding principles including creativity and innovation; quality of life and economic development; diversity and inclusiveness; respect for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples; and public value and accountability.

We had the opportunity to connect with Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport for the province of Ontario and what we found was someone who genuinely wants to hear from citizens on all including how to improve arts and culture in their community. The deadline is December 7.

What follows are highlights from our discussion about the process, why we need a comprehensive culture strategy, some of the feedback to date and his dreams for culture.

In your mind, why does arts and culture matter?

Culture shapes and enriches our lives and communities. Youth engagement in culture, particularly for at-risk youth, is linked to improved social and problem-solving skills and higher academic achievement. Culture is also a significant contributor to Ontario's economy -- it adds almost $22 billion to Ontario's economy, representing about four per cent of the province's GDP.

What are the three main things that you hope to achieve with this process?

We want to develop a deeper understanding of what aspects of culture are important to Ontarians so we can increase participation and ensure that Ontario's arts and culture sectors are well positioned to thrive in the future. We hope to see strong engagement through the consultation process, a wide range of diverse feedback and insight from as many Ontarians as possible, and ultimately the development of a robust strategy that reflects Ontario's diverse communities.

We have heard there has been a high level of participation. Who is attending? Artists, audiences, sector workers? How about youth?

We have had participants from all walks of life and aspects of culture, including artists, audiences, culture sector workers and youth. In addition to the public town halls, we have been meeting separately with youth groups and others, such as Francophones, seniors, newcomers and people with disabilities in communities across the province.

What are the top three themes that you are hearing?

We continue to receive a wide range of feedback. So far we're hearing about the importance of getting more youth involved in arts, culture and heritage, both in the classroom and in the community; the importance of diversity to culture in Ontario and ensuring that diverse cultural experiences and expressions are supported and celebrated; and the need for partnerships and collaboration, across cultural sectors and with other sectors.

A stakeholder in the culture world is the "audience member." Are you hearing any asks and/or suggestions from this group?

At all the town halls, people have talked about the many different ways they engage with culture and how it matters to them, their families and their communities. Many participants have highlighted how important it is that culture in Ontario be accessible to people. People define "accessibility" in different ways, for example, in terms of cost, regional and rural access, removing barriers for people with disabilities, offering wide-ranging and relevant content, and using digital technology to reach more people.

Once all the consultations and submissions are received, what are the next steps? And the timing when the recommendations will be announced?

The deadline for comments is Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. This winter, we will release a report highlighting the key themes we heard through all the consultation methods. In the spring, we will post a draft Culture Strategy for public input before it is finalized.

What advice do you have for the fashion community to proactively table their case to be deemed as an "art" and qualify for government support?

Our government values both the art and the business of fashion design and supports it through my ministry (Tourism, Culture and Sport), MEDEI (Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, and MTCU (Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities). I encourage the sector to participate in the consultations whether through the Town Halls, online through Culture Talks, or by sending us written submissions.

Many feel that programs need to be put in place to enable artists to become true entrepreneurs. Is this a theme that is coming through during the consultation process?

We are already seeing a digital revolution in arts and culture, particularly in the music sector. Technology offers great opportunities for artists to generate their own success. Ontario's Culture Strategy will be shaped by both the opportunities and the challenges faced by our artists.

With a new federal government committed to unprecedented investment in the culture sector, how does that inspire what may happen with this strategic exercise?

I am excited about working with our new federal counterparts and am excited to have a partner in Ottawa who is as passionate about this sector as we are in Ontario.

Your top three "dreams" for the culture in the next five years?

That every young person has an opportunity to pursue their passion in arts and culture. To ensure that all Ontarians have equal access to arts and culture. For Ontario to be a leader in innovation and a hub for creative people and industries.

The town halls continue through December 3. Locations and times here.

You can also contribute ideas (publicly or privately) and vote on submitted ones online until December 7 here.

This is a once in a very long time opportunity to have your voice heard.

Whether you work in the sector or experience culture on a day to day basis, this is your chance.

Stand up, speak up and engage.

They really want to hear from you.

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