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Guest Editorial: Making Guelph a Better Place

Guelph has long defined itself by its artists. Since being founded by novelist John Galt, the arts have permeated all aspects of life in Guelph. Arts and culture are a source of pride for our community.
However, those of us who work in Guelph agree that arts and culture are so much more. For many, it means employment. In fact, 2006 census data showed 545 individuals who said art was their sole occupation. This does not include people working in groups that provide, support or produce artistic content – like the Guelph Arts Council, Hillside, Ed Video, River Run Centre or Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, to name a few. This also doesn’t include hundreds of artists who use the arts to supplement their income or for leisure, volunteerism or social activity.
At last week’s Guelph-Wellington Economic Summit, small businesses were constantly touted as the backbone of the area economy. Despite this fact, arts and culture were siloed as a separate entity. While members of the audience may have recognized that the arts promote tourism, provide our community with an identity and create  opportunities for community engagement, I was struck by the lack of understanding that creative industries are a source of employment driven by artists who are  entrepreneurs. As entrepreneurs, artists and arts administrators operate small businesses, not-for-profits, and charities that provide jobs while stimulating the local economy.
Stimulating the local economy is something that many of us in the arts community have been talking about for quite some time. As acknowledged by one business owner at the summit, it is the arts and culture community that puts “heads in beds” at his local hotel. That being said, when asked to identify local partners to help build and develop the Guelph tourism brand, the arts and culture community was left off his list.
Recognizing the importance and impact that arts and culture have on our community, economy and tourism is key to our success as we move forward into a new era of development. That the City of Guelph is looking at potentially outsourcing tourism services comes as both a worry and a shock to the arts and culture community.
For years, Guelph Tourism Services has worked hard to promote its partners and to bring us together to champion Guelph as a whole. Since its inception, Guelph Tourism Services has had a vested interest in the arts, culture, and heritage community and has worked hard to build a brand inclusive of this community. It is very hard to see how a third-party organization, one that does not have the same commitment to our community, will work as hard to promote, advocate and champion the arts as a municipally-driven tourism department.
In the end, all of this goes back to seeing arts and culture as an economic driver that helps build and strengthen the community in which we live, work, and play. As the executive director of the Guelph Arts Council, it is my job to advocate for artists and arts organizations while also providing artists with the supports necessary to develop their craft. The arts are so much more than an eye-catching painting, engrossing film, locally-produced performance, a great song sung, or good book; the arts mean employment, entrepreneurship, community growth, tourism, education, industry, and innovation.
I am glad I participated in the Guelph-Wellington Economic Summit. It reminded me that more support and recognition needs to be given to the creative cluster. I left with a renewed commitment to support those that make Guelph and area a hallmark region for arts and culture.
Sonya Poweska is executive director
of the Guelph Arts Council

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