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County of Brant Council approves Arts, Culture and Heritage strategy

CouncilCounty of Brant Council approves Arts, Culture and Heritage strategy

County of Brant Council received and approved a report on an Arts, Culture and Heritage Strategy plan during its Council meeting on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Initially approved as part of the 2019 Capital Budget, though paused due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and picked up again in June of 2023, County Staff have been working alongside ERA Architects Inc. to develop and complete a ten-year Arts, Culture and Heritage strategy for the community.

The strategy is meant to address the overlap between historic places (tangible heritage), intangible cultural practices, arts and creative industries, and the natural setting in which they occur.

“It’s really to provide a framework to help re-establish community linkages and continue to foster a shared cultural identity,” Emma Abramowicz, planner and senior project manager for ERA Architects INC..

As part of the project, Staff and ERA Architects Inc. conducted a robust multi-prong public engagement process from August to October of 2023, including 14 community events with public engagement boards, an Arts, Culture and Heritage party at Wincey Mills in Paris, as well online surveys.

“To start we engaged a 12-member steering committee to help us shape the strategy. Representatives were invited from all sectors of Brant’s arts, culture and heritage industries and we were really very fortunate to get to solicit the expertise of a really diverse group of people across a range of disciplines, age groups and perspectives,” said Abramowicz. “…We also reached out at the outset to local indigenous rights holders, including representatives from the Six Nations of the Grand River, the woodland Cultural Center, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. …Based on this robust engagement process, we’re confident that the strategy you have before you today, meaningfully reflects the voices of engaged stakeholders throughout the County of Brant.”

Kayla Cicman, Arts, Culture and Heritage Officer for the County of Brant, said that throughout the various conversations, they heard that there was an appreciations for the County’s cultural heritage assets.

“The County is defined by our history through local heritage, museums, archives, historic buildings, festivals, foods and local traditions,” said Cicman. “We are also defined by our contemporary culture, artists and art venues, film, music, crafts and community connections. The economic and social benefits of culture are well recognized worldwide; Culture brings people together and build social bonds, creating a sense of place and community pride, as well as fostering understanding and respect for each other.”

Abramowicz said that by the conclusion of the engagement period, they were able to summarize the information into a SWOT analysis, looking at the current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of, and to the County’s current arts, culture and heritage sectors.

From there, they were able to create a vision for the strategy, as well as a set of six objectives to help fulfill the vision, and 42 actions (ranging from new policies and processes to guides and resources, and promotion) with recommended timelines to help achieve the objectives.

At a glance, the following objectives were proposed:

·  Objective A, to support Truth and Reconciliation through arts, culture and heritage initiatives, in connection with broader municipal Reconciliation programs.

“The premise of this is that it’s really not up to us to develop a set of strategies for reconciliation on our own,” said Abramowicz. “The whole premise of reconciliation being that we’re working together, developing and growing relationships across jurisdictions, rebuilding trust, and providing the space for indigenous communities to determine what actions would best support reconciliation in the arts, culture and heritage spheres in Brant.”

·  Objective B, to provide an infrastructure of support for individuals, institutions, businesses and organizations undertaking cultural initiatives

·  Objective C, to facilitate a spoke-and-wheel model to support and promote the diverse, vibrant cultural activities occurring both within a central cultural hub and County-wide throughout Brant.

·  Objective D, to foster a broadly inclusive cultural sector that supports residents and reflects their diverse experiences, perspectives and cultural traditions.

·  Objective E, to Conserve and celebrate Brant’s unique buildings, landscapes and stories as cultural heritage assets.

·  Objective F, to standardize municipal heritage planning practice with the Ontario Heritage Act and with municipal best practices across Ontario.

Abramowicz noted that the majority of the actions can be undertaken with existing staff resources, but that ten of the actions rely on proposed additional staff resources within both Arts, Culture and Heritage, and Development Services, in order to achieve all 42 actions.

After the presentation, Councillor Steve Howes asked Abramowicz if she could provide more information about Objective C as it relates to the “spoke-and-wheel model.”

“There is so much robust activity happening everywhere throughout Brant, and it also sort of felt clear that from the outside, Paris gets a lot of focus; In part because I think that the way that it’s been kind of promoted externally from other places have maybe been a little bit different. We want to acknowledge that it does have kind of a concentration of buildings occupied by cultural institutions or cultural businesses that do, in fact, draw people in because there’s a concentration there,” said Abramowicz. “…We think that there’s an opportunity to use the fact that Paris is drawing in visitors and use that as a moment to kind of just spread people out [via cultural trails]. …If Paris is in fact, drawing people, and that’s something that other communities are interested in attracting as well, then we can leverage that interest.”

Councillor David Miller asked if it was the government’s role to either lead or support arts, culture and heritage.

“I think there’s a balance, it’s something that we’re kind of working through as well as we’re developing this,” replied Abramowicz. “I think for Objective B in particular, it’s really centered on the idea that there is so much that’s happening at the grassroots level and there’s such an engaged community, that the idea of kind of [the government] stepping into lead, is maybe sometimes almost disengaging and counterproductive. Instead of taking a leadership role, government can take a facilitation role and be there as a support and a facilitator for things that are being driven at a community level, particularly when there’s so much engagement.”

Councillor Jennifer Kyle noted that in Object B, it talks about collaborating with regional neighbours but that the only ones she saw were Brantford and Six Nations.

“I’m just wondering, especially if we’re talking about something like reconciliation, we have other regional neighbours along the Grand, for example we have North Dumfries and Cambridge, next door, we have Hamilton and we’ve got Oxford to the west,” she said. “I’m just wondering how some of those other regional neighbours were factored into the report and how you might see those collaborations as well?”

Cicman said that Brantford, Six Nations were obvious neighbours to engage with because culture doesn’t necessarily see borders and many artists live and work within both communities.

“Having said that, I do quite often speak to a lot of communities beyond just those neighbouring ones to see best practices,” she said.

Councillor Robert Chambers asked which parts of the plan are dedicated to agricultural heritage and the rural areas.

“They might not be as exciting as the action that happens on the streets of Toronto, but there’s heritage and culture there and a large number of people in the County have that heritage,” he said. “It needs to be emphasized just as much as the neat stuff that happens in the cities.”

Abramowicz said that at ERA Architects INC., they also look at how the agricultural industry has shaped people’s communities and histories.

“When there are events that are that are kind of centered around agricultural sectors like fairs such as Apple Fest, etc, those are ways to promote agricultural heritage and culture as a key kind of defining element of Brant’s cultural identity,” she said. “In objective E, which is around kind of conserving, tangible and intangible heritage, is about the development of local historic context statements, which is when the County kind of works with more individual communities to determine what’s of value, and what are the kind of key features that convey that value in their local community. So, that’s the type of action where when there are landmark farms that really are our defining features of a place, they can be flagged for conservation or flagged for programmatic support.”

Councillor John Bell commented saying this particular strategy looked like the cheapest one that Council has ever had and asked how that work and Cicman said that it was essentially a blueprint for her role, falling under her pay.

Howes later asked if staff could clarify what they would be approving during the council meeting and Zach Gable, director of economic development and tourism for the County of Brant, said that it would it just be the strategy and that there was currently no monetary ask.

“I think it is our intent to come back through the budget process, with the decision package to explore some of those additional items that were identified earlier. You kind of have an Option A and an Option B with the input mentation plan. One is the status quo in terms of budget, and then option B is additional resources,” said Gable. “The intent is to explore all opportunities such as grants or what have you, to kind of add those additional items. So there’s no budget being approved tonight, but it would just be really that blueprint back to staff.”

The vote to receive and approve the report was then carried unanimously, noting that Councillors John Pierce and Christine Garneau were not present during the meeting.

As part of the item, the Brant Heritage Committee was initially recommending that as part of the strategy, that the County prioritize and increase the designation of heritage properties under the Ontario Heritage Act, and support both improved public communication/education about designations and the adjustments to staff workplans that will be required to undertake this work.

As well, that a minimum standard for the 2024/2025 work plan include the undertaking of five heritage designations and one heritage conservation district as legislative action for the Committee and staff, and that the Brant Heritage Committee evaluate the capacity for the Committee members.

Gable then suggested that the recommendation be amended to come back as a staff report to allow time to flesh it out more.

Howes said that he would like to see that staff report to help Council inform the decision.

David Bailey, Mayor for the County of Brant agreed that a report would be best before they voted to approve.

“I don’t know that Staff is qualified to do heritage districts and regions and we’re not even finished building our downtowns in places like St. George or Burford, so I don’t know that we know where those [heritage] districts will be and how big they should be,” he said. Once you put a designation like that on the district, you’re limiting what can happen in those areas and it makes very difficult for people on those properties to move on, and it makes it difficult to keep developing and keep moving so I don’t think it’s the right time.”

Howes then moved an official moment to defer the item to Staff and it was carried on a unanimous vote, noting that Councillors Pierce and Garneau were not present at the meeting.

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