A joint effort by Hastings County, Quinte West and Belleville is “breaking some important new ground” according to Greg Baeker.
The cultural plan being developed by the three municipalities is the first regional cultural plan in the province, Baeker said last week in Madoc.
The consultant made the comments during the third of three forums held to engage community residents, partners and stakeholders in the process of identifying the community’s cultural resources and assets.
“Most of the cultural plans have been done for individual municipalities, but this is the first time that three municipalities have come together, acknowledging that there is an advantage in a regional approach,” said Baeker, director of cultural development for Miller Dickinson Blais, the consulting firm hired to help develop the cultural plan. “So we’re quite excited about doing it, and proud of breaking some new ground.”
Hastings County, Belleville and Quinte West are all funding the development of the cultural plan, with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Community Futures Development Corporation and $37,000 from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture’s Creative Communications Prosperity Fund, said Hastings County economic development manager Andrew Redden.
The development of a cultural plan is an integral component of the county’s economic development action plan, Redden told about 30 forum participants gathered at Arts Centre Hastings.
More than 100 people attended the forums in Belleville, Quinte West and Madoc, more than 100 community surveys have been filled out and 40 interviews have been completed to gather public comment about the region’s cultural needs and opportunities.
The cultural plan is about drawing together the “patchwork quilt of really cool, unique” cultural assets from across the county, creating “a sort of clearing house” of creativity and culture, Redden said. It’s also about bringing more creative people to the area and “enhancing and promoting our culture.”
Baeker said more and more municipalities are taking culture seriously, realizing it is a driver of economic development. The traditional economic development view has been that people and jobs will follow new industries and businesses to a community, he said. “But now we actually know that it is quite the reverse. If we build communities in which people want to live, then business and investment will follow people. So having a rich quality of life, including culture, is not just a nice thing to have, it is actually increasingly one of the most important economic assets a community can have.”
Research has also discovered that people travel to other communities not necessarily for specific events, but to experience the overall uniqueness of a community, Baeker said. “Culture has everything to do with defining what’s unique in your community,” he said, stressing that part of the objective of the cultural plan is to identify all the cultural organizations, businesses, festivals and events, natural heritage resources, facilities, creative occupations, customs, traditions and stories that give the community its unique identity.
Sometimes this involves creating “a new mindset” to get people to shift away from narrow definitions of culture, Baeker said. “It’s shifting perspectives, and getting a new paradigm about what we mean by culture. And it’s building networks and relationships so there’s more capacity to do things and achieve outcomes.”
Following the community engagement phase of the project the cultural plan steering committee and consultants will put together “a summary report to ensure we’re on the right track,” Baeker said. Draft cultural and implementation plans will then be presented to stakeholders, and the steering committee will review the final draft plan before making presentations to county and city councils.