Posts Tagged ‘jeff melanson’

On February 10 and 11, the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, hosted its 4th Summit at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre, gathering over 700 invited civic leaders from across industry sectors to talk about what we can do together to make our city region among the best in the world.

Founded by the late David Pecaut in 2002, the then named Toronto City Summit Alliance is a coalition of thousands of civic leaders committed to leading change and tackling big picture issues facing the Toronto region. Now chaired by John Tory, it convenes and organizes individuals and organizations across business, academic, government, labour, and not-for-profit sectors to improve Toronto’s social, economic and environmental future.

John Tory, Chair of CivicAction

CivicAction, as it’s now known in short form, is a recent, more inclusive rebranding aimed to reflect the economic and geographic cluster surrounding Toronto, today inhabited by over 5.5 million citizens – roughly one sixth of Canada’s population. Since its inception, CivicAction has taken an active role in incubating innovative initiatives designed to galvanize action on the tough issues and big opportunities affecting the Toronto region.

The Summit was an incredible opportunity for these big picture conversations, and included a range of star speakers and salient topics such as diversity, neighbourhood development, transit, affordable housing, arts and culture, economic cooperation, and immigration, among others.

Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty

Day one began with a keynote address by Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty, who delivered what sounded much like an election platform speech. He presented a vision for Ontario “to be the place where the best workers build innovative products and services that the world wants.”

Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty

He highlighted priorities such as infrastructure development, health care, education (including the introduction of all day kindergarten), electricity, and, of course, deficit reduction.

Speaker Glen Hodgson and panelists Elyse Allan, GE Canada and John Cartwright, York Region Labour Council

Glen Hodgson Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the Conference Board of Canada presented the first-ever economic forecast for the GTA and Hamilton, projecting that public investment spending will fall in 2011-12, but that the region will see 3% in real GDP growth this year. Full recovery is projected for 2013.

Breakout discussions focused on key issues such as transit, affordable housing, labour force readiness, diversity and a new model for economic cooperation across the GTA. Detailed reports from working groups were prepared in advance and included proposals for possible action, ensuring focused and forward moving conversation.

After lunch, recently elected Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, spoke about the ‘diversity advantage’ and opportunities for new immigrants as a key contributor to local prosperity. An immigrant himself, he said “it’s a shame to waste the talent and potential of the people we’ve invited to this country.”

And last, but not least on the day’s bill was US-based Carol Coletta, CEOs for Cities who swiftly stirred the late afternoon energy lull with her lively presentation. She illustrated how the success of a city rests on its quality of talent, place and opportunity, and cited many formidable examples of cities investing in quality of place and opportunity as a way of attracting and retaining talent.

Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty

Day two featured federal Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty – also Minister for the GTA and professed friend of the Ford family, having served with Rob’s father in the Ontario Provincial Legislature. Flaherty boasted Canada’s strong economic position relative to other countries and spoke at length about Toronto’s brand as a prosperous city. He also reported that despite “negative media attention”, the financial sector abroad thought the G20 Summit was “brilliant” for Toronto. Hmmmm…. I’m not sure the crowd was convinced.

Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty

He offered a few unsurprising points about the upcoming federal budget. Focused on job creation and competitiveness, he mentioned things like tax relief for businesses, eliminating manufacturing tariffs, the already announced extension to October 2011 on infrastructure projects, and a working income tax benefit for low income workers to discourage welfare dependence, among others.

Majora Carter

Next, Majora Carter of the Bronx in New York spoke passionately about her mission to create economic opportunities for America’s most expensive citizens, and walked us through several exciting projects that engaged the green economy in at risk communities. “You shouldn’t have to leave your neighbourhood to live in a better one” she told us.

The breakout sessions on Friday included topics such as arts and culture, neighbourhoods and community, income security, social development and environmental action, among others.

Of course, I went to the arts and culture discussion that focused on new collaborations within the sector. Despite the somewhat uncoordinated panel speakers who introduced the topic, the discussions around the room were energetic and productive.

Panelists Jeff Melanson, Rahul Bhardawaj, Francine Périnet and host Garvia Bailey (missing Che Kothari)

Up for debate was the notion of making Toronto a global cultural capital. The need to create a common vision for the sector, foster audience growth, increase cooperation within the sector and develop a robust sector-wide research effort were presented as the challenges at hand. Three proposals for action were presented for discussion – a single campaign leading to enduring collaboration, the creation of a framework for collaboration, and the creation of a research and policy centre for arts and culture.

Garvia Bailey

Hosted by CBC’s Garvia Bailey, small group discussions were facilitated and the results of the conversations varied.

At my table, we were keen on the creation of a platform for collaboration. We imagined an alliance called something like ‘Arts Action GTA’ and envisioned that it would do things like host an annual city-wide, cross-sectoral summit focused on arts and culture in the broadest sense, develop collaborative branding and marketing initiatives, align messaging and spearhead advocacy campaigns as well as conduct policy research. An interesting model of such an initiative is the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

Another table presented the idea of an ‘Arts Passport’ that would provide discount offers to patrons for cultural events throughout the city, as well as allow the sector to collect data on cultural consumers. Other suggestions included creating a ‘Cultureliscious’ event, aligning collaboration around physical spaces in various neighbourhoods, involving private sector partners as collaborators instead of just funders, and advocating for more arts education in GTA schools, among many other ideas.

It was a heartening discussion, especially given the scope of individuals in the room. It wasn’t only members of the cultural sector who were present, but also representatives from business and government, allowing for broader scope and perspective on the issues and in turn, more support for the proposed actions. Going forward, it’s clear that CivicAction will continue to be a critical platform in bridging connections between sectors – something the arts and culture industry hasn’t done well in the past. I am hopeful that we can work more strategically and collaboratively within our sector, and together with other sectors, to address the critical issues we face today and in the future.

Mayor's Frank Scarpetti, Hazel McCallion, Deputy Mayor Doug Ford, and Mayor Bob Bratina

The latter half of Friday featured Gordon Nixon, President and CEO of RBC, a video message from the Right Honourable David Johnston, Canada’s Governor General and a panel of his and her worships – this Mayor’s of Mississauga, Hamilton, Markham, and Toronto (though brother Doug Ford was a stand in for Rob who was in the hospital at the time).

I was thrilled to have been a part of Summit 2011, and left the event inspired by the many incredible people who contributed their talent and leadership to the discussions. The convergence of people motivated to lead positive change in our city region can only amount to good things. The need is urgent and the time for change is now. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I hope you’ll understand, sirs, our legitimate and unavoidable impatience”.


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Last Friday, Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), Chair of Toronto’s Economic Development Committee announced the Creative Capitals Initiative – a plan to design the next generation of Toronto’s Culture Plan. The existing plan was launched in 2003 and contains 63 recommendations, one of which was to increase Toronto’s per capita arts investment to $25 by 2008. At the current $18 per Torontonian, progress has been lagging on this front and on many other targets, though according to the City, 87% of the original recommendations have been addressed. Today, 10 years after the first plan began taking shape, it’s clearly time to reflect on how Toronto will take its next steps in fostering an active and healthy cultural scene, raising its profile as one of the world’s foremost creative capitals.

The Creative Capital Initiative will be headed by several heavy hitters from both the arts and business sectors. Co-Chairs include Robert Foster (CEO Capital Canada), Karen Kain (Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada), and former federal Cabinet Minister Jim Prentice (Vice-Chairman, CIBC). They will be joined by an Advisory Council which includes: Nichole Anderson (President and CEO, Business for the Arts), Cameron Bailey (Co-Director, Toronto International Film Festival Group), Claire Hopkinson (Executive Director, Toronto Arts Council), Che Kothari (Executive Director, Manifesto Community Projects) and Gail Lord (Co-President, Lord Cultural Resources). The Committee will also be advised by Richard Florida (author and Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute) and Jeff Melanson (Special Advisor to the Mayor – Arts & Culture).

Invited focus groups and public consultations will be taking place throughout February with plans to present recommendations at the May 2011 meeting of the Economic Development Committee. Consultations will include a wide scope of issues such as cultural infrastructure, direct investment in artists and arts organizations, digital media, sustainable spaces and cultural attractions, among others.

Given the absence of an arts platform in Ford’s mayoral campaign, this initiative is a welcome invitation to participate in the shaping of a new future for the sector. Developing the next generation of the culture plan was a recommendation made by ArtsVote and other factions of the arts sector during the election campaign, and we are wise to take full advantage of the opportunity to participate in this process. Renewal within the ranks of City Council also affords us an opportunity to reinforce other key recommendations (such as new investment in direct grants to artists and arts organizations) as well as bring to the table new ideas, offer new solutions and consider new initiatives that will help make Toronto’s arts and culture scene more vibrant and sustainable. Strategically positioning arts and culture as a key economic driver and social asset will help us assert our value in wider city-building agendas, ensuring that arts and culture are an essential investment in Toronto’s success.

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Over the past two days, I had the pleasure of attending the 150! Canada conference organized by MASS LBP and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC). The conference was an opportunity to think about how Canada will “celebrate the next great year in Canadian history” – the sesquicentennial anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

Day one was an intellectual marathon! Twenty-Five speakers from a variety of sectors were given 10 minutes to present a perspective on issues ranging from “Canada’s Ecological Future” to “Energizing the Arts”, and “The Business of Nation Building” to the “Anniversary Compulsion”. Despite a general sense of over-stimulation, the presenters were compelling and provocative. Social researcher Jordan Peterson, author of Maps & Meaning, the Psychology of Belief, provided startling data on the correlation between a country’s wealth disparity and its social health. In Canada, 20% of our population holds 80% of our wealth. There are several countries where this gap is wider (Canada is in the middle-ish of those countries studied), though where the gap is smaller, societies are healthier when measured on factors like life expectancy, math & literacy, infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage births, trust, obesity, mental illness and addiction, social mobility. Source: Wilkinson & Pickett, The Spirit Level (2009). Another statistician, Keither Neuman from Environics, spoke on why (and what) Canadians want to celebrate. Surprisingly, 27% of Canadians want to celebrate muticulturalism at 150 though only 1% mentioned hockey.

Also interesting was Marlo Raynolds who spoke passionately about Canada’s need to take the lead on environmental policy. He shared an anecdote about how Banff National Park (Canada’s first National Park) was created to avoid a corporate dispute over commercializing the hot springs. “How Canadian”, and a policy we’re all thankful for today.

Former Olympian Bruce Kidd spoke about an arts and athletics association that was inspired by the Centennial and designed to bring artists and athletes together to share common experiences and goals. From the arts sector, Jeff Melanson of the National Ballet School repeated the mantra ‘everyone’s an artist’ and suggested both a “Participaction for the arts” campaign and a national arts education strategy. The latter point and others related to arts education, was raised several times in more intimate conversations throughout the conference.

Charming and memorable, Peter Ackroyd spoke wisely about the anniversary compulsion, joking that “if it ends in a zero and you can divide the number five, then BOOM! It’s an anniversary”. Ackroyd was the Director of Communications of the Centennial Commission in 1967. He offered a few words of advice on celebrating 150: “Make sure it’s fun, but also allow for dignity and emotion. It is healthy to release the spirit through noise, laughter, tears”.

These are a few of many compelling ‘idea portraits’ put forward, fueling us with energy to dig into the issues on day two. There were about 10 issues that delegates were invited to discuss in smaller groups. I chose to first sit at the table that was addressing how different orders of government could work together, and later at a table on energizing the arts. At the first, we assumed that there would be a Commission for the Sesquicentennial and we discussed how it might work – agreeing that it should be led by the people, that it would incorporate all orders of government and be non-partisan. At the second, I tossed an idea into the ring related to the Olympic ‘Own the Podium’ initiative. The program was designed to create the conditions for the success of athletes – providing them with subsistence while they trained, access to the best trainers, coaches, nutritionists, psychologists and an anti-doping program. Why not consider this model to create the conditions for success for arts and culture, equipping the sector to be at its best at 2017?

In the closing session when the group re-assembled, we were treated to a presentation by Jowi Taylor who talked about his project Six String Nation. If you haven’t heard about it…follow the link. It’s amazing.

Finally, we had a roundup of ideas, presented in 90 seconds or less (brilliant!) from each of the 10 groups. Some cool things (both wise and wacky) that stuck for me were these:

Canada 150 savings bonds!
Inter-provincial cultural exchange projects
The Water Project: Water from fresh lakes across the country collected and poured into a commemorative fountain at the centre of the country.
Collaborative projects framed by our social values
Legacy infrastructure
Working with NGO’s and businesses to set the vision – not just to help deliver it
Locally driven initiatives
Not just celebrating diversity, but celebrating in diverse ways!
Connecting communities using innovative technology
Artists integral to the planning!
A moveable cultural feast! (a traveling cultural event)
Hubs and creation centres across the country
A cultural Wikki?!
A movement to inspire confidence and trust in our political systems
Civic education! Arts education!

And the one that I think so aptly sums up the spirit of the event: “Our sesquicentennial is a chance for Canada to find its voice and rediscover itself”.

There are many more worth mentioning, and some great ones I’ve surely forgotten. My brain is full and I’m once again back on an airplane being stared down by a flight attendant as I struggle to type these last few words with the seat belt sign on… All for now.

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