Brown, Cimolino call for democratization of culture

To some extent, what happened in London, Ont., at last week’s Creative City Summit was routine and unremarkable. Organizers of the biennial gathering of the Creative City Network of Canada booked some convention space and hotel rooms, invited a few guest speakers, drew up an agenda that left plenty of room for workshops, excursions and networking, and sent out invitations to members. And it all seemed to go off without a hitch.

The messages relayed by the summit’s two keynote speakers, however, challenged the assumptions that lay at the heart of centralized culture planning (and the summit’s participants were, after all, culture planners from municipal bureaucracies across the country). They were also messages worth hearing by a much broader audience.

As I mentioned in a column in The London Free Press last week, San Francisco-based arts consultant Alan Brown was refreshingly plain-spoken in his description of “six domains” of creative culture (due to a lapsed passport, Brown addressed the gathering via Skype). He urged delegates to take a wider “ecological” view of culture: “While some of your communities might not have much of a formal arts infrastructure, and while your budgets may be small and getting smaller, you must realize that creativity is a currency in a different economy – an economy of meaning.  In this economy, wealth is attainable for everyone, because every human being is intrinsically creative, they just might not know it yet,” Brown said.

“Everyone has a stake in the creative capital of their community, especially businesses, elected officials, parents, and the education system.  The arts, of course, are a major stakeholder in the creative capital of their communities, but sometimes I wonder why we don’t act like it.  Too many arts groups have grown complacent and comfortable producing professionally curated arts experiences by professional artists for professional audiences — and lost touch with the vast sea of creativity all around them.  And they wonder why resources are dwindling and community support isn’t as high as they’d wish.”

Brown offered a copy of his speech to the summit, along with an apology for not being able to attend in person. Conference organizers promised to post it on their website, but I’ve not seen it there yet, so I’ll post it here.

Alan Brown on Creative Capital, May 11, 2011

The following day, Antoni Cimolino, general director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, tilted similarly toward a bottom-up arts culture. Cimolino retold the stories surrounding the creation of the festival in the 1950s and how, at various points in the history of his community, strategic decisions were made by citizens and their politicians to allow an arts-rich culture to take root. Cimolino’s stories about Stratford’s history were really a prelude to his plea for support of Culture Days, a national event slated for this fall and for which he is chair of the steering committee.

Cimolino’s address, his short video on Culture Days and a question-and-answer session lasted about 45 minutes. I edited out the video portion (but see the link below) and the Q&A to produce an audio recording of about 22 minutes in length. You can listen to that here:

Antoni Cimolino on Culture Days

The video Cimolino presented about two-thirds of the way through his address is below.

Thanks to the board, staff and organizers of the Creative City Summit for allowing me to attend — and to Conestoga College, my employer, for providing the professional development time to do so.

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