When Peter Caldwell met with local artists and art groups, the message they shared with him was loud and clear.
“It really boiled down to what the arts in Sudbury needs, and how we can help,” the new director and CEO of the Ontario Arts Council said. “They were all saying versions of the same thing: We need to support each other more.”
Caldwell was in Sudbury as part of a OAC Northern tour Oct. 24. He met with groups in French and English, to hear their needs, and inform them of programs available.
Callam Rodya, the founding director of Encore Theatre, attended one of the local sessions.
“I really went because such a large collection of local artists together in one room is uncommon in this city and I knew it would be a great opportunity to share ideas and build a sense of community among what really can be a fractured and fragmented group of people.”
The key issues Rodya addressed were echoed by many other local artists.
“I brought forward the need for a single, organized collective that represents the local arts and culture sector that would then lobby and advocate various levels of government on behalf of that sector,” he said.
“We need a strong organization to represent us and put pressure on all levels of government, whether it be municipal, provincial or federal, that the arts aren't just a special interest group. We are a powerful economic engine and vital element of the community and should be accounted for in any long-term growth strategy.
"The city could definitely be doing more to embrace the arts and culture sector in Sudbury. That sentiment was echoed by nearly every individual in the room. Another issue I brought forward was the need to create a true arts and culture department within the municipal government.
"Currently, the arts reside under tourism at city hall. And quite frankly, grouping the arts up with hotels, beaches and sports teams absolutely ensures that they will not flourish locally the way they do in other similarly sized communities.”
Caldwell said Rodya's concerns were backed by other local artists. In response, he offered some insight into what the OAC is doing to address them.
“Because of the special needs of the North, we have satellite offices in Sudbury and Thunder Bay,” he said.
Located in downtown Sudbury, there is a full-time staff member available to assist northern artists seeking guidance and support. The office is also responsible for distributing information about the Northern Arts Program. The program was established in 2007 “to value the distinctive nature of arts produced in Northern Ontario.”
Caldwell said given the geography, access to resources and population of the region, it can be more difficult for artists to make a go of working in the industry in the North.
“These are real challenges,” Caldwell said. “We totally get that.”
While the OAC can help, Caldwell said the community itself needs to step up. While speaking to local artists, Caldwell said a reoccurring statement was “somebody should.”
“There's no 'somebody,'” Caldwell said. “It's the artists themselves. They need to get together and make this happen.”
Following the meeting, a good sense of momentum had built among local artists.
“Steps were then taken to form a coalition of organizations and artists to do just that,” Rodya said.
“I wouldn't say many issues were resolved, but steps definitely are now being taken in the right direction. You can't fix a broken system in one meeting, but I personally feel very positive and excited coming out of it.”
The OAC is the province of Ontario's primary funding body for professional arts activity. Since 1963, the OAC has played a vital role in promoting and assisting the development of the arts and artists for the enjoyment and benefit of Ontarians.
For more information, visit www.arts.on.ca.