CHRC on the road – Edmonton

Woke up to a massive snow storm today. I thought we’d finished with winter :-(

As I watched cars crawl along the wide Edmonton streets with snow “pouring down’ and snowplows snarling traffic - clearing the way almost as quickly as drifts were forming - I feared our meeting today would be in an empty room.

However, Edmontonians know about snow and don’t seem much phased by it, I’m really happy to say.  By the 10 o’clock start we had a very good crowd – in fact one of the biggest yet. We were in the historic, beautifully restored Prince of Wales Armouries. A building like no other I’ve ever seen. An old drill hall full of military regalia, stories, and apparently ghosts – now the home of the City of Edmonton Archives and the Edmonton Arts Council (John Mahon and his terrific staff person, Jana, were our co-hosts for today). It is also the proud exhibitor of the famous Gun Sculpture created as a protest for peace - a far more interesting picture to include with this blog than that of another meeting!

With news that Career Focus is not being renewed there was considerable discussion about mentorships – how can we encourage those essential learning experiences to happen for both emerging and mid-career artists and managers? One helpful suggestion was to think of mentorships outside the sector. The Business Centres which are set up in every major Canadian city might be good organizations to explore when looking for mentors in business.  Edmonton has a Chamber for Voluntary Organizations that offers very good emerging leader workshops – another example of reaching outside the sector to access resources. It was pointed out too that these connections can lead to finding good Board members for cultural organizations.

When the discussion turned to export marketing, Hendrik Slegenhorst, who has delivered several of CHRC’s Going Global workshops across the country, emphasised the growth potential of audiences in far east Asia. Closer to home there is the big untapped but well-heeled market of Fort McMurray! I know from my trip to that oil boom town last year that there is a hunger for cultural activity – and what better artists to bring to northern Alberta than Albertans!

As a majority of those present were from the live performing arts there was talk too of co-productions. We heard a suggestion that a document on “co-production tips and pitfalls” would be a good addition to CHRC’s offerings. We haven’t heard that before, but it makes a lot of sense….

Edmonton’s cultural life is rich and vibrant. It was a real pleasure to end on that note as I headed back to the airport past stranded cars and major pile ups. My thoughts of Edmonton are actually not of snow but of the warm welcome I received and a strong arts-friendly city.

Much to reflect on after these cross-country visits. I see the challenges, but am optimistic about the cultural sector’s ability to respond to them - and CHRC’s place in that picture going forward.

CHRC on the road – Vancouver

Vancouver is a wonderful place to be on the first day of spring. Unlike the rest of the country, there is actually a feeling that the seasons are about to change – with budding magnolias and waving yellow daffodils dotting the streetscape.

Our meeting was in the delightful “art-full” Listel Hotel with our co-hosts the Alliance of Arts and Culture. While our discussions covered familiar territory and themes – the cultural sector across the country is dealing with the same issues – we picked up some new insights and ideas.

Liz Shorten, CHRC’s Board member representing film, jumped right in with concerns about the generation shift that we are all seeing and experiencing: the graying hair around Board tables and in senior staff positions – and where are the middle managers to take over leadership roles? People are being thrust into high positions without being properly prepared. We need succession strategies and tools.  And we need to focus on the bridge to the emerging artists and cultural workers who are growing up in the digital age: how are they engaging with and shaping the cultural infrastructure? They’re full of the entrepreneurial spirit, but they have to look sideways too, to be aware of the cultural ecology they are part of. 

This discussion led to talking about mentorships and their role in bridging the generation gaps. They work both ways: they help young artists and cultural workers to grasp the timelines that have gone before them; and they help senior artists and managers open their minds to new ways of seeing and doing things. It’s a balancing act – holding on to the good in the past while embracing the change of the future. Status quo is simply not an option.

Rob Gloor, Executive Director of the Alliance, emphasised the high value of mentorships and the need for more sharing of mentorship resources within the sector. (This is particularly true in the wake of Career Focus not being renewed for us.)

Jon-Paul Walden who is both a presenter and teacher at Capilano College, pointed out that young people need to be more proactive in identifying the right mentor!  How do you go about finding a role model and lining up a mentor? (Don’t expect educators to do it.) Mentors don’t typically look for mentorees. This is an area we haven’t addressed before…

When thinking about training generally, and the fact that we can’t predict the future, we ask how we prepare people for what we don’t know. Adaptive reasoning, innovative thinking and flexibility are the qualities and skills we need to develop in the workforce of the future.

Updating the Going Global workshop for export marketing skills was definitely of interest, and could fall under the purview of Creative BC.  The Art of Managing Your Career and HR Tools get high praise.

I left Vancouver to cross over the Rockies to Edmonton – the last stop on this series of meetings with members across the country and across the sector……

CHRC on the road – Regina

The good thing is that I got out just before the big snow hit Ottawa :-) The less good thing is that when I hit Regina I found myself in -15 degrees C temperatures – my taxi driver was delighted with the “warming spell”!

So under the sparkling sun and blue sky of a prairie high pressure system from the north, gingerly advancing at intersections to avoid traffic hidden by snow banks, I made my way to the Artful Dodger. This is a delightfully creative space/restaurant – a favourite hangout for Regina’s artists, musicians, filmmakers, started and run by an artist herself.  This is where Dennis Garreck (with SaskCulture) and Karen Henders (the Saskatchewan Arts Board), our PATAC partners, elected to co-host this CHRC meeting with members. It was a great choice of venue. Lunch was delicious!

I was without my trusty PowerPoint presentation (technology failed us), and was flying solo because Richard does have a paying job in Fredericton and can’t make it to every meeting (though he does amazingly well and I – and the sector – are hugely grateful for his interest and support!)

We had a group of around 20 – a full cross section of the cultural sector. What dominated the discussion? I would say that it was the strong Saskatchewan spirit of independence and “doability”. Entrepreneurship. For a province that is known for its left leaning tendencies as the birthplace of the CCF, there is a real streak of “we can do it on our own” that shines through the language. Maybe it’s because the current Brad Wall government has done little to support culture in the province.  Most recently they cancelled the tax credit for film and are now trying to repurpose the excellent sound studio that is languishing in the exodus of 400 of the 700 formerly employed in the successful film industry in the province. The natural resources, not the creative human resources, have the attention of this government.

Nonetheless, creative entrepreneurs are leaving their mark on the city and the province. The Artful Dodger is an example. As well, I had lunch with Marian Donnelly and Carle Steel, both of whom have led initiatives to take over and convert old buildings, working with and for artists of all kinds to provide renovated studio and presentation spaces. It wasn’t surprising to me that one of the suggestions for themes for our next HR Forum is entrepreneurship, coupled with self-employment.

Nor was I surprised to hear about the great use the cultural sector is making of The Art of Managing Your Career. Through the Saskatchewan Arts Board (SAB), TAMYC workshops are offered and they are coupled with mentorships which are proving invaluable in terms of filling out the learning experience. The SAB is even moving into coaching relationships for graduating students. We were encouraged to think more broadly about mentorships – outside the province, and even international. Online mentorships through skype can work.

Export Marketing is on people’s minds too, as they wait to see what the Saskatchewan government’s new Creative Saskatchewan is going to offer in the upcoming budget. It might be possible to find partners for updating our Going Global workshop.

All in all, there were several points of common interest and concern. CHRC’s Saskatchewan roots are strong….

CHRC on the road – Toronto

We met today in the venerable halls of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. Thank you CCCO for co-hosting with us and choosing such a fitting location! I checked out the web site to get some of the history of that historic and cultural landmark:

“For more than a century the Club has been an important presence in Canada's cultural scene. Today it is a dynamic community of men and women of all ages for whom the arts are an essential part of life – a place to pursue creative expression, engage in the free and vigorous interchange of ideas and opinions, and enjoy good conversation and the companionship of kindred spirits.”

What a treat!

Cultural leaders and workers from across the sector joined us in an animated conversation that bounced from ideas on how to support CHRC’s ongoing funding, to passionate interventions around the [sometimes uncomfortable] relationship between creators and IT coders. (A relationship, BTW, that CHRC is tackling in a number of different ways, including working with the ICTC sector council.)

We heard strong support for continuing our networking role through events like the national HR Forum. We registered the suggestion of bringing x-gens on to our Board. We nodded in agreement about the undeniable move to “on line” products, teaching , communications.

And we tried to quickly write down Diane Davy’s eloquent intervention about CHRC’s role in the sector – one of those moments when everyone seemed to nod in agreement as she was speaking. Let me try to articulate it:

“CHRC should bring together partners in the cultural sector around topics that have a broad interest, such as export marketing and mentoring, being careful not to step on the toes of these partners (with either a sub-sector or provincial focus) as they pursue their own goals.”

It makes perfect sense and reflects the spirit behind these meetings with members and the sector.

A truly rich, far-reaching discussion from savvy cultural leaders and seasoned sector veterans. We’re grateful for the frank comments, praise and constructive criticism – but mostly for the support for CHRC.

We’re in this together – and we feel like we’re on the right track!

CHRC on the road – Winnipeg

We were in Winnipeg today. I am always in awe of the cultural energy of that city. There was a buzz because the Jets beat the Leafs, but that aside, the strong presence of the arts and cultural industries is undeniable. Solid industry associations like OnScreen Manitoba and the NSI , New Media Manitoba and Music Manitoba are economic players – and the provincial government understands that. The Live Performing Arts are thriving in theatre and dance. Heritage treasures - wonderful old banks, churches and office buildings - are sprinkled throughout the Exchange District and the city, and valued for their architectural beauty as well as their historical significance. Aboriginal culture is integrated into the landscape and life of the community.

With leaders and advocates like Thom Sparling at ACI Manitoba (our co-hosts today), the cultural sector is at the tables of both provincial and municipal governments – an active partner in shaping Manitoba’s identity and economy.

At our meeting we covered a wide range of issues. People were solicitous of CHRC’s transition to a funding model without HRSDC operational support, and encouraged us to move aggressively into our new funding model with a focus on revenues from products, memberships, and industry sponsorships and partnerships. Good ideas emerged about new partners.

As in other provinces, mentorship featured high among the priorities of our Manitoba confreres. ACI is a leader in building and running mentorship programs, but the need for more resources to support their programs is clear – particularly to help mid level / mid career cultural workers to acquire management skills, and to help senior cultural managers to hone their leadership skills. A web “portal” to collect mentorship best practices and resources from across the country could serve the sector well, and CHRC would be a natural partner to build and maintain it…..

Export marketing is another priority area. ACI is a leader here too, active in organizing and promoting export marketing workshops based on CHRC’s Going Global resource. Their training provider par excellence is Nikki Dewar (former Trade Routes official and now CITP certified i.e. Canadian International Trade Professional) who knows Going Global as well as anyone and has the added benefit, from our point of view, of being an expert in the cultural sector. Her work with ACI could potentially spread across the country. We are anxious to follow up on this one! Export Marketing has been a key focus for CHRC since the late 90s.

More good ideas to ponder.

Now on to Toronto…..

CHRC on the road – St. John’s

Newfoundland Resource Centre for the Arts

The stop in St. John’s just wasn’t long enough! A short stay at the wonderfully renovated award winning Murray Premises (fish factory on the harbour turned boutique hotel), a walk along Water Street past the galleries and crafts stores (and clothing stores with winter sales!), a big climb up the many sets of stairs to Duckworth Street and then to the LSPU Hall – that very special, very Newfoundland Resource Centre for the Arts – to the warm welcome of Reg Winsor (ED of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council – our co-host) and our Newfoundland members: what a way to start your day!

It didn’t take long though to move into conversation about the challenges the cultural sector is facing in Newfoundland. Richard and I spoke first about CHRC’s strengths and optimism in our transition to life-without Sector Council Program (and core funding).

Then we broadened the discussion to consider directions CHRC should/could go in, and the discussion became lively. The purportedly hefty oil revenues that are supposed to be filling the provincial coffers are not making their way to the cultural sector. Just keeping the doors of theatres, festivals, dance companies and music organisations open is a day to day challenge. That means the nurturing of any sense of continuity and stability, much less HR management that takes succession into account, is not on people’s radar.

A priority off the top was support for the development of exporting and export marketing skills where “there is a void”. It is essential for Newfoundland’s artists and cultural workers to reach international markets. Even convincing bureaucrats of the need to return to international events more than once to fertilize national and international marketing opportunities is a tough sell. With the demise of Trade Routes and support for exporting of cultural goods and services at DFAIT, CHRC has noted the need for leadership and collaboration among a variety of partners to rebuild Canada’s strength in this area.

Another area where CHRC might offer support is Board development. Connected, active, hands-on Boards of arts and cultural organisations are vital – particularly when the ability to maintain staff with experience and “corporate memory” is so difficult. Board tools are needed that go beyond reciting “fiduciary responsibilities” to actually showing how to fundraise and apply skills and expertise in the process of governance. We will continue to tap this theme as we visit other provinces and see where it places on our list of priorities.

We were also pleased to hear support for our planned efforts to respond more specifically to the needs of First Nations artists and cultural workers. This struck a chord. It was inspiring to hear about New World Theatre’s production of The Tempest with an aboriginal cast, in Cupids! And plans among the Atlantic Public Arts Funders to shine a light on First Nations artists in an aboriginal arts festival. We will look for ways to collaborate with this spirit and these efforts.

While we shared the challenges, as always in Newfoundland, the spirit is strong, and we ended the meeting on an optimistic note:  news of an initiative among Newfoundland business people to step into the fray and provide support for cultural activity in the province.

We look forward to hearing more of that!

CHRC on the road – Halifax

We held our first “meeting with members” and others in the sector in Halifax today at the historic Pier 21 Canadian Immigration Museum. What a landmark that building is! New on the Canadian museum scene, it is rich with the history and stories of immigrants from around the world who have shaped our country since pioneer days.

A fitting location for a cultural sector meeting.

Over “breakfast” of muffins, coffee, fruit and yoghurt, Richard and I welcomed friendly familiar faces of CHRC’s extended family on the east coast: Bernie Burton, Alastair Jarvis, Joel Duggan, Andrew Terris, Helen Ferguson, Waye Mason, Keith McPhail, Briony Carros, Mary Elisabeth Luka, Susan Hanrahan - all have collaborated with us in various capacities over the years. Staunch supporters of CHRC’s mission to “strengthen the cultural workforce”. There were new faces too, and we were glad to pull them into the circle.

Richard HornsbyThe group was engaged and engaging. After a run through of CHRC’s structure, products and offerings as it transitions away from HRSDC’s sector council program (which close down on March 31, 2013), we explored future directions for the Council.

Very much on people’s minds were diversity issues: what are we doing to support our First Nations artists and cultural workers? Where do we see on our Board and in our committees the multicultural reality of the Canadian demographic?

Exporting was a preoccupation: how do we provide our artists and cultural workers with the savvy and skills they need to export their goods and services internationally?

And we could count on it as surely as the night follows day: how can we better support and nurture mentorships across the sector and across the country, and even internationally. This comes up in just about every conversation CHRC is a part of!

The lively and constructive discussion left us with a clearer sense of the priorities of our members and of the broader sector. A better sense of direction for CHRC as it transitions into a new business model without losing its values and essence.

We closed the gathering down at 11:00 am because we had to have a conference call with the Executive – it made me smile to see the animated conversations still going on as we whisked people out the door to get on with the next part of our day!

A safe and uneventful flight to St. John’s this afternoon. Arrived in full-on sun! No fog today :-)