Why do you choose to live in Winnipeg? What would make it easy for you to keep choosing it as your home? Or what would make it easier to answer these questions? Election time is rife with debates about priorities, visions, spotlights on problems, or looming crises. Citizens engage in debate and politicians try to take position within it in order to earn your vote, and also earn a mandate to affect change over the next four years.
So what are the issues of this 2018 municipal election; meth crisis, the opening of Portage and Main, Rapid Transit expansion? Yup. All of that. And more! I’d like to suggest that Winnipeg has always felt that art is at the heart of its identity. Whether it was intentional or not. However, more and more, art is defining our city. We are seeing the north end in a new way, and seeing that despite what we’ve been saying about this neighbourhood for the last how many decades? It just might hold potential. Want proof? Maybe the city’s most impressive mural is on North Main and covers the NewWest Hotel. But its not just core areas where art is transforming our communities for the better. Have you been to St.Vital parc recently? That fabulous new fire pit by the duck pound is not just a pit… its a work of art created through an open call by the Winnipeg Art Council. They are also popping up in Rapid Transit stations. Oh… and I could go on at lengths about how our willingness to engage in the truth and reconciliation process with Indigenous communities has some of its most visible components through prominent works of art, like star blankets wrapping buildings or structures like Niizhoziibean at the Forks. But we’re just getting started. And the social issues in Winnipeg are a plenty. Plenty of new immigrants, plenty of refugees that sometimes don’t share in english or french as fluent languages, plenty of once marginalized communities asking to have a voice!
But when we talk about art… we also need to talk about economics. The arts sector is contributing to the financial vitality of the city. The film industry is a shining example of this. Films shot in Winnipeg last summer are currently streaming on Netflix, on cbc, or even featured at the Toronto International Film Festival. As I write this, Christopher Walkin is somewhere in Manitoba shooting a film about a farmer who took on Monsanto.
What’s a given about the arts is that it’s never a given. We often have to squeeze our way into conversations. Always reminding people of the power of the arts. But also the capacity of the arts sector in Winnipeg… should we be given a stage to do so. Concretely, I think of the redevelopment of the Market Lands in the Exchange District. The City of Winnipeg is about to unleash a MAJOR development project, right across from City Hall. An entire city block that was given to the city on the condition that it serve a public purpose. It has been suggested that affordable housing means that criteria will be met. I suggest that it is not enough. That the arts need to be an integral part of the development. Because it’s by placing the arts at the heart of the Exchange that we were able to change this neighoubourhood back in the 80’s. If we want to continue that evolution, or bring it to the next level we must place the arts at the center of it. Internationally impressive arts groups like the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra have offered to be part of the activation of this space. So have community change makers Art City and others. Other art groups have asked the Market Lands to be their home, so that they can engage with the public, freely, so as to make the Market Lands a truly valued public space. I suggest, THIS is an issue to be raised during this municipal election.
I invite you to make the arts part of the conversations happening around this municipal election. We, citizens, have the most power in this moment; to get commitments from our elected officials. So lets ask them to make commitments to the arts.
There is an organization called Manitobans for the Arts that have put together a document with 6 commitments a council and mayoral candidate can make in order to truly be an arts ally, an arts advocate, and an arts leader at City Hall. The commitments are based on three strategies:
1- Invest in artists; by increasing per capita funding provided to the Winnipeg Arts Council and by earmarking 1% of the city’s annual capital budget for public art.
2- Invest in facilities; by establishing an arm’s-length capital fund for arts and heritage facility renewal, rehabilitation and development and by identifying hubs of arts and creative activities and support them through municipal tax incentives.
3- Invest in events; by directing the permitting process for events specifically to the Film and Special events office and establish an online portal application process as well as establishing a database of annual events, and experienced event organizers, and provide a priority streamlined application process for these events and organizers.
The full document can be found here: www.manitobansforthearts.ca
Every candidate has been sent this list and has been asked to say if they commit to these strategies and specifically to these recomendations. In other words, they’re aware. So, when a candidate calls you or knocks on you door, ask them about it. I’m not saying its the only thing you should ask them, but it should be on the list. Maybe they’ll get it, arts matter in Winnipeg.