While defining exactly what the ‘culture’ of a community is not easy, it is easier to appreciate its importance.
Culture is who we are, and while ultimately each of us will define that differently based on our heritage, interests and experiences, collectively we create a diversity which can be appreciated for just that, the differences we have that can still be appreciated by the broader community.
So when back around 2007 when Yorkton was selected as one of four communities in Saskatchewan to undertake a municipal cultural planning process as part of a pilot project initiated by SaskCulture Inc. it was a good thing.
SaskCulture is a community-driven organization that works with its members and the broader cultural community to build a culturally-vibrant province where all citizens celebrate, value and participate in a rich, cultural life.
And, municipal cultural planning was seen by SaskCulture as a means to achieve greater community engagement in the development of a ‘culturally‐vibrant province’.
Beginning in November 2007, community consultations, input and engagement in Yorkton were undertaken to develop this document. A steering committee worked with the project manager and lead consultant to develop a set of five key objectives and a strategic action plan.
Further community input resulted in the addition of a sixth objective and additional actions including.
* Having Yorkton’s cultural community achieve increased communication and coordination between cultural organizations and events regarding timing of events, marketing, audience development, partnership development, volunteer recruitment/retention and organizational capacity.
* To see Yorkton as a Cultural Hub – The City of Yorkton is recognized as a centre of cultural excellence and activities for the surrounding region, offering programming that appeals all communities within a significant radius outside of Yorkton.
* To establish a new or refurbish an existing community facility for cultural activities, events and organizations that is accessible, affordable and sustainable.
Whether the actions have been fully achieved could be debated, but the efforts in 2007 at least began the process.
Back then some barriers and issues were also identified including;
* Lack of Recognition – The quality of Yorkton’s events, talent and cultural activities is not recognized or celebrated by the cultural community, by the City, by the people of Yorkton.
* Aging volunteer base – The number of volunteers is dwindling, and there is a noticeable lack of youthful volunteers. It appears to be the same small dedicated core of volunteers who support the activities of many organizations.
* Municipal leadership – While there is a solid working relationship between City of Yorkton Leisure Service employees and the cultural community, there is a distinct lack of cultural policy. Issues that need to be addressed include gifting, public art (including murals), ongoing dedicated funding, and facility use (including outdoor spaces).
In a May 2008 editorial in Yorkton This Week it was quoted a letter then presented to Council “the object of a Municipal Cultural Planning process is to ensure the cultural assets in a community are recognized and understood as resources for human and community development,” explained the letter. “Planning around a municipality’s cultural amenities and authentic heritage opens the door to attracting new employers and residents, increasing tourism and trade, as well as building social capital and overall community well-being.”
So the process began in 2007 is now being updated, and the objective remains much the same.
So to do some of the issues and barriers.
Therein lies the concern with the process, as one might well ask if the needle in terms of helping better define and grow the community’s cultural assets have taken place.
It is often easier to define the issues that need addressing than it is in taking the actual steps to improve things.
So as the City works through the process of updating its Municipal Cultural Plan it might do well to set some hard targets this time, and some budget dollars to see those targets met, otherwise we could end up in perpetual plan updates acknowledging the importance of culture in the community, but falling short of pushing a cultural agenda to the forefront.
In a second editorial from May 2008, Yorkton This Week asked the important question whether there was something missing from the cultural picture here in Yorkton?
For example, while there are two fine theatres associated with our high schools, is there a need for a smaller, more intimate theatre for public use, one where those in attendance can sip wine and drink a beer as they watch whatever is being performed on stage?
Is there a need for more public recognition of the arts in the city, perhaps through a program such as the ‘Godfrey Awards’, an idea discussed in the past to create a set of awards focusing on success in the arts?
Or, is it time for a museum dedicated to the history of the city?
Maybe this time around we’ll define the answers and fund the solutions too.