It's been awhile since we've heard from the HRM Cultural Advisory Committee(a quick office game of "name the committee councillors" brought no winners), but that doesn't mean life is boring in Official Cultureville. Last week they sponsored a public art forum and sent in an application to the federal government which would designate Halifax as a "Cultural Capital of Canada" for 2010— marking the navy's centennial anniversary—and potentially bringing in up to two million dollars of funding for the 18-month-long festivities.
"There's a heck of a lot of possibilities here," says committee chair Andrew Younger, one of two city councillors, along with Sue Uteck, who sit on the advisory board. "The partnership with the navy is really important. Halifax was founded as a navy town back in 1749, so without the navy and military, the city probably wouldn't exist." The navy has its own funding, so the "two million would end up all going to local organizations to help them put on stuff, like Symphony or Neptune or small theatres, and all the different activities we have planned."
The committee worked with some of the bigger organizations to flush out ideas, such as a performing arts celebration, a citywide visual arts exhibition, plus food, literary, African and First Nations heritage festivals and more. Younger says, "That's not to say that it's the only stuff that will go on—I'm going to be meeting with Eastern Front Theatrethis week to discuss what involvement they'd like to have. We've already met with the big ones, we haven't met with the smaller ones yet. When we win, we will then have a broader stakeholders' meeting to find out what additional elements we want to bring into this and find out how much money you need to do it."
Council has tentatively approved a $600,000 expenditure. So how do smaller, overlooked groups get in on the fun? Younger says, "Get them to apply well in advance, or to send proposals in—I'd hate to make it too much red tape—and we'll take a look at it and find out what we want to add to this." Officially, council has to approve all activities, but the CAC has to make a decision whether applications first go through a jury, like public art, or are assessed by the committee.
"One of things we've been lacking in the city for a number of years is supporting grassroots organizations and the small cultural groups—we're not great at supporting the big ones either," he says. "I would really like to tap into Zuppa Circus and other smaller groups who can be a strong and vibrant part of this."
So start practising your royal wave, my lady, because Queen Elizabeth's presence has been requested. Younger says, "The Queen! What a long way we would have come from being the cultural backwaters for a while. We've really lost touch with our cultural abilities over the past few years."
Hmmm. I hear you cynics whispering—I'm like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. But away from official culture, there are opportunities (and audiences) for exciting alternative events that push artistic boundaries further. Anything that brings culture and art to the streets is fine by me.