Culture Days 2010 demonstrated that municipalities can play a key role as community organizers. By convening a broad suite of partners and creative activities while leveraging their resources to provide local marketing support, they generated community excitement and participation in the event. In this Community Spotlight feature, you’ll meet Onalee Groves, Cultural Officer, in the City of Barrie, Ontario’s Department of Culture, who played a key role in Barrie’s successful Culture Days event in 2010.
Culture Days -- What is your name and role? What city and province are you in?
Onalee Groves -- Onalee Groves, Department of Culture, Culture Officer, Development – City of Barrie, Ontario
CD -- How did you first hear about Culture Days?
OG -- I think our Provincial Consultant sent out emails informing us of it and encouraging us to participate.
CD -- What inspired you to get involved and what opportunities did you identify for your community’s participation in Culture Days?
OG -- I loved the idea of raising the awareness of the arts on a national scale and felt strongly that it was a wonderful opportunity for collaboration, not just with our arts community, but our businesses, our politicians, our tourism industry, our BIA, and our residents. It was inspiring to feel a part of something that was so grand and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to profile our community through the many ways that Culture Days offers, such as the website, newspaper ads, CBC etc.
CD -- How did you approach organizing Culture Days in your community? Who were some of the people and organizations you worked with in organizing and promoting your community’s celebration of Culture Days?
OG -- We formed a cross sectoral committee. We had representatives from our BIA, our Art Gallery - the MacLaren, the Barrie Folk Society, one of our Theatre organizations, Theatre by the Bay, members of our Arts Council, several of whom are vested in social media organizations like Rhubarb Media and MH Connects, and some local businesses such as the Flying Monkeys Micro-Brewery. We also involved internal partners from the City, as we utilized our recreation facilities for performances and our Communications department to develop promotional materials. Each of the organizations on the committee had their own contacts that we called upon in an effort to provide opportunities throughout the entire city.
CD -- Please describe what you did to promote Culture Days activities and spread the word in your community.
OG -- We utilized the Culture Days website, the City of Barrie’s website and the media opportunities that are available to us through our Communications Department, such as “Barrie This Week” in our local paper, The Barrie Examiner, as well as issuing press releases to profile the events. We created booklets, ‘Passports to Culture’ that outlined all of the activities and we dispersed them to all of the designated locations in advance so they could begin to raise the awareness of Culture Days. We tried to involve locations where people would not ordinarily expect to see art, so we planned a flash mob with our Opera company, Opera Belcanto in one of our malls. The malls and the businesses and recreation facilities all assisted us by putting up posters that outlined some of the exciting performances and told people where they could get their ‘passports’.
CD -- How did your marketing campaign come together? Were you able to convince media and promotional sponsors to get involved?
OG -- For a first year we managed to acquire support from the local media, although this year I would like to involve them earlier in the process and perhaps have sponsors for each medium, i.e. one local paper, one television and one radio partner, in order to gain a higher profile.
CD -- Are there any moments during the lead up to and during Culture Days weekend that really stand out in your mind?
OG -- We could feel a buzz in the community as the event approached – like the excitement was building. I think the performers were giving off a lot of positive energy as the day approached.
CD -- After your first experience with Culture Days in 2010, what longer-term benefits or lasting outcomes have you identified for continued annual participation? Challenges?
OG -- For a first experience I saw this event as having enormous potential. We started last year with it being a one day event and I plan to grow it exponentially over the next few years, involve more artists, more businesses, more performing locations, more partners etc. I believe that the sky is the limit with this project! Challenges will be to find sponsors to shoulder some of the projected costs as we grow, but I think that we can work on building relationships with those that see the value of the arts, such as the media and business partners.
CD -- What advice do you have for other community organizers who are planning for Culture Days 2011?
OG -- If I were to give advice to other organizers, I would just say that some of our experiences weren’t quite as positive as others. We had a few single performers for some locations that were not reliable and did not show up, so the business owners were angry with us. This year, I will make every effort to trouble-shoot these kinds of issues, by having volunteers checking every location. If a performer doesn’t show up then we will have extras that we can allocate to fill the performance space. So the advice would be to pull in lots of volunteers, as last year we only placed volunteers in locations where we held multiple performances.
CD -- Was there anything you learned in 2010 that you’d count as a lesson for the future or a key success factor?
OG -- We are quite excited that this year we are going to be combining our Culture Days event with Doors Open and another event at the MacLaren Art Centre entitled Carnegie Days. We are hoping that by cross promoting we will gain a larger audience and a higher profile. I think this is a great partnership in the making, with huge potential for growth.
CD -- Is there anything else about your experience of Culture Days that you’d like to share?
OG -- I would just say “get involved” to anyone that is out there sitting on the fence. This is an exciting opportunity for municipalities, large or small, and it has the ability to benefit your entire community, not just the arts sector. What are you waiting for?
Watch the Opera Belcanto flash mob in action at a local Barrie mall.
Share your Culture Days story! Email and upload your Culture Days photos to Flickr. You can also post to the Culture Days blog, add your comments, photos and videos to Facebook or tweet with the #culturedays hashtag and we’ll re-tweet your message.
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