HRM Cultural Plan Reviewed

I finally had a chance to sit down and read it. And you know, its not bad! Here are my thoughts.

Jane Buss may not have gotten to the meat of the plan, as the plan reviews the process of making the plan and the input from the public for the first 25 of 75 pages. I understand the desire to legitimize a document by putting the context of its creation, and the broadness of the participation, front and centre. But it is excessive. I am a fan of sentences, and the HRM Plan struggles with pages and pages of bullet points.

As I wrote in a previous post, I gave up on page 25. That is really to bad of me, because as I read today, the actual strategies, goals, and actions start on, you guessed it, page 26.

I think it would strengthen the document to have a summary of top level goals, followed by 1-2 pages of summary on the process, then the detailed goals and actions. It would make it 30 pages long… that would sure help.

Any document that creates a recursive loop by referring to itself in future tense needs a good edit. At some points, plan says that “the plan will reflect this” or “the plan will address”. It is the plan, its not a plan about how to make the plan. The plan should read “HRM will…” Council is to pass this plan, and then it will be the guidance to staff and citizens, and I think it should read that way.

The plan calls for five strategic directions:

STRATEGIC DIRECTION # 1: Focused Service Delivery & Partnerships
STRATEGIC DIRECTION # 2: Cultural Access & Equity
STRATEGIC DIRECTION # 3: Community Character & Heritage
STRATEGIC DIRECTION # 4: Life Long Learning & Creative Development
STRATEGIC DIRECTION # 5: Investment & Promotion

Stirring stuff, eh? Okay, its not… Maybe the document has gotten flak from the cultural community because it is not a call to arms type document. No moving rhetoric here!

Despite its dry and bureaucratic tone, the Plan does touch on most of the arts funding issues that it is reasonable for municipal government to take ownership of. Most importantly, below each strategic direction, there are goal areas with actual actions. And in those actions, there are repeated calls for investment and stable funding. That is right, funding.

I don’t think HRM is going to start giving money to operations or even programs of the Cultural Feds or Music Nova Scotia, and I don’t think that they should. There are services those organizations might offer on a cost recovery basis, and they could work with HRM to make the region one of the best places in the country for their own members to make art and culture.

However, if HRM gets its act together on horizontal integration between business units, we may see a world where HRM does not have a school, next door to a library, next door to a community centre. A world where the gym in the school might be designed to also function as a community hall, at an affordable cost, that fosters community arts growth. I dream of a city where there is an art gallery, or the municipal museum, in the new central branch library. There is some of that in this.

Most interestingly, there is something that has gone unremarked by either the arts side or the cultural industries. The document calls for partnership with private sector, encouraging and environment where arts and culture businesses flourish alongside not-for-profits. I cannot emphasizes what a huge step this is for HRM. Vancouver, leading the Creative Cities movement, funds only not-for-profit. I think its practically visionary for HRM to commit not just to be a patron for the arts, but to growth of the industries that flow from those arts.

Over all, while the writing style is a bit dull, and its not particularly concise, this document is a workman like approach upon which can be built a fantastic arts and culture program. If, and only if, Council funds it after they pass it.

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