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Arts and culture — the foundation for our future

By Rosemary Smith

For years, we have discussed the importance of arts and culture to the future of our region.

Artists’ voices have been joined by community builders, business owners, educational organizations, municipal leaders and art lovers.

What is clear is that a vibrant, healthy, artistic agenda for our community is an economic imperative. When employees consider where they would like to live, data tells us that there are three considerations:  schools, health care and a vibrant community with an abundance of artistic and cultural opportunities.

Our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest workers is at the heart of the success of our region.

To attract workers, we must compete with cities such as Toronto and Ottawa.  And we are in direct competition with communities like Denver, Colorado and Austin, Texas, who are a decade ahead in building creative communities.

Years of community collaboration and engagement led by the Prosperity Council resulted in establishing the Creative Enterprise Initiative (CEI). Simply put, CEI is about enlivening our community by helping the creative activities already happening, and at the same time creating new ones which will ultimately deliver a richer and more diverse creative offering.

We have been tremendously fortunate to have Communitech to support and enhance our tech sector. Now we have CEI to do the same thing for our creative community.

CEI has four strategic priorities: a) secure new investments; b) provide resources; c) provide services; and d) invest social profit into the sector.

A $3.5-million annual shortfall exists within arts funding for our region when we compare ourselves to other national cities. This shortfall needs to be eliminated. The plan is to solicit additional dollars as follows:  $1 million from the Region and municipalities; $1 million from the province and federal governments; and an additional $1 million from private sources.

The region and the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo are each in their third year of increased investment. With their leadership, this sector is closing in on the $1-million annual target, with just under $750,000 in net new annual investment.

From the private sector, CEI has created a leadership council comprised of business and community leaders.  Council members are asked for an investment of $15,000 per year for three years. Since the beginning of 2012, 12 leadership council members have come on board.

We have a talented and creative community. However, now is the time to move this agenda from good to great. We must ensure that we are the best place to live, work and play. Everyone needs to be part of the solution. We need your support through your attendance at events, your volunteer time for community-based  organizations and your willingness to write a cheque in support of our creative jewels.  Whether it is your time, talent, or treasure, your community needs you.

What’s in it for you?  The continuation of our region as a successful business leader, the provision of meaningful employment and the assurance of our ability to recreate ourselves (as we have many times in the past) are your rewards.

CEI’s work ensures that we continue to have the best place to live, work, play and raise our families — a great return for the support you provide.

• • •

Rosemary Smith is the CEO of the Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation. To learn more about the KWCF, please visit www.kwcf.ca.

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