Making London a Creative City

By Ed Corrigan

Published in Your Village News, September 29, 2006

In August the London Fringe Festival sponsored an All Candidates meeting with a focus on the arts. This was an excellent initiative that focused attention on an important aspect of life in the City of London that is frequently neglected. For a City to thrive in today's "new economy" a City has to be able to attract the best and the brightest. It is these individuals that provide the backbone to today's successful city economies.

A number of years ago Dublin Ireland granted tax exempt status to artists, writers, musicians, movie producers, media and other cultural industry workers. This initiative helped make Dublin one of the cultural capitals of the World and helped its economy boom.

Leading cities like London, England, Paris, Boston, New York, Seattle and San Francisco have dynamic thriving cultural industries. They also have dynamic and booming economies. Our London must build an infrastructure that supports and promotes innovation and creativity in the arts, in the cultural sector and in the economy. This will help generate wealth and help diversify our local economy.

Shortly after I was elected to City Council in 2000 I distributed articles on Richard Florida's "Bohemian Index" to the City staff and to my fellow councillors. Richard Florida's studies showed a clear link between support for the arts, culture, and diversity to a City's economic success.

To prosper in the "new economy" you need to attract and retain the best and the brightest. Cities that were high on the "Bohemian Index" and had a thriving arts and cultural community tended to prosper. According to Richard Florida's study investing in your arts and cultural community is a wise economic move.

In order to attract and keep professionals like physicians, computer, medical and bio-technicians and leaders in the developing new fields of technology we need to have the social, environmental and cultural attributes that make London an attractive community for such people to come to our community and want to stay.

In August 2004, City Council identified "Culture" as one of the six strategic priorities that form its Community Strategic Agenda. The enhancement of the cultural infrastructure has been designated an important priority to help the City of London become one of the top ranked destination centers in Canada. This belated recognition was to a large part due to the Creative City Task Force chaired by Controller Gord Hume.

In my assessment of the current state of the arts in London has both positive and negative attributes. On the positive side we have a wonderful series of music festivals, an excellent Orchestra, and other music outlets like the London Music Club and the Canada South Blues Society. We also have a thriving theater community, with the Grand, The London Community Players, The London Arts Project and various productions at the University. The London Fringe Festival is an innovative addition to the London arts community. The John Labatt Centre has enabled us to bring world class musical groups to London.

There is, however, much room for improvement. There is a pressing need for a modern state of the art preforming arts centre. Kitchener and Hamilton have much better facilities than London and that is something we need to remedy. However, covering the cost is an important consideration. A major benefactor is needed, corporate and community fund-raising is required as well as federal and provincial government funding. This project is part of the long term City strategic financial plan. It should not be a burden to London property tax payers.

There is a need for more municipal government support for the arts and a better recognition of the economic benefit the City receives from the arts and culture and diversity. We need to harness these activities to add to the quality of life in London and to generate economic prosperity.

London's Sunfest World Music festival attracts to London approximately 200,000 visitors, many from outside the community, bringing in valuable tourist dollars. The City only contributes the cost of renting Victoria Park to this "world class" international music festival. Sunfest is under serious financial pressure and it would be a shame if London lost its biggest and most successful summer festival. It also would be an economic blow to our local economy.

We have the Guy Lombardo Museum in London, for our city's most famous musician, yet we do not promote it properly. For example we do not have a sign on the 401 to advertise its existence. We can do a much better job in promoting the arts in London.

Support for the arts and culture in London is crucial for the vitality of our community. It helps us attract and retain individuals that can make a significant contribution to our community and to our economy. Arts and culture adds to the quality of life in our community, and as Richard Florida has shown, it is a smart economic investment.

Ed Corrigan is a London lawyer and a former City Councillor (2000-2003) and is a candidate for the newly created Ward 9 in the November 13, 2006 Municipal Election. He can be reached at his office at 519-439-4015, residence 519-652-0973 or at edcorr@hotmail.com. His web site is www.edcorrigan.ca. A selection of his articles on municipal issues can be found there.

September 11, 2006 version 887 words