It’s like when you have the lasagna baking and you open the oven door to check on it: “You think it’s done, but the cheese hasn’t melted yet.”
With that metaphor, Mayor Jonathan Cote pretty much summed up New Westminster city council’s reaction to the city’s recently released draft arts strategy, Our Arts Impact 2018-2023.
At a council workshop Monday afternoon, councillors unanimously agreed to send comments on the draft strategy back to staff for another look. The city’s arts commission and the arts strategy task force – the group of community members that spearheaded the document’s creation, alongside an outside facilitator – are also meeting Thursday (May 31) to look at where to go from here.
“There is some good work that has been done and some value, but I think … there is some more work to be done,” Cote said. “We want to take the time to make sure we’re getting it right.”
The draft of the new arts strategy was unveiled at an April 26 meeting at Anvil Centre following a two-year process that included extensive public consultation. But, once the draft was unveiled, members of the arts community raised criticisms – among them that it wasn’t written in plain enough language, that it wasn’t specific enough to New Westminster, and that it emphasized the city’s role as a driver of the arts but didn’t pay enough attention to the artists and arts groups at work in the city.
“We heard back that there were some things that were missing, that we didn’t get correct,” said Coun. Mary Trentadue, who chairs both the city’s arts commission and the arts strategy task force. “The best solution at this point is for us to regroup.”
Coun. Patrick Johnstone said the criticism of the document is something that happens in public processes – when, he said, the city hears so many varying points of view from so many people.
“I think it’s a public engagement success,” he said.
He noted he’s heard a lot from the arts community that the strategy focuses too much on the city “driving the bus” for the arts, and he added that the document needs to simplify a lot of the concepts it’s trying to convey.
“I do think this needs more cooking,” he said.
Cote said the draft arts strategy has left some big question marks, such as how the city will try to maximize the benefits of the Anvil Centre as a hub of arts and culture, and how the city will proceed in its future as the owner and operator of the Anvil and Massey theatres.
He said many of the ideas in the arts strategy are “vague and broad” and need to be brought down to more specific levels.
Coun. Lorrie Williams agreed that the Anvil Centre and its accessibility to the local arts community is something that needs to be addressed, noting that, as it stands, many groups feel cost is prohibitive in accessing the theatre and other rooms at Anvil Centre.
“Local people feel they are squeezed out a bit,” she said.
Coun. Bill Harper noted the document should address the city’s multicultural communities and how the city will work to encourage the arts in those communities.
Inclusion was also important to Coun. Chuck Puchmayr, who suggested the city needs to find ways to reach out to multicultural communities.
As he stands, it said, the arts strategy seems to be too broad.
“We’re trying to please everybody, and in doing so, we don’t seem to be pleasing anybody,” he said.
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy suggested the city needs to look at how to integrate the arts with the city’s other operations, such as fitting it in to the economic development strategy.
“I believe in art for art’s sake, but I want to also have an arts plan that can be measured,” he said.
He also stressed the arts strategy needs to encompass New Westminster’s uniqueness.
“I want to see the heritage, I want to see the diversity, but I also want to see the community pride and the quirkiness,” he said.
Trentadue said the city also needs to consider the philosophical picture of how the city can work in partnership with the arts and arts groups in the community and what exactly the city’s role in the arts will be.
Trentadue said the arts commission and the arts strategy task force will meet on Thursday to look at all of these issues and generate some ideas about how to move forward.