Elizabeth Bender is the Cultural Coordinator for the Township of Centre Wellington. Culture Days spoke to Elizabeth about how Centre Wellington created a Cultural Passport to successfully build and promote Culture Days in her rural community of south-central Ontario.
We are not shy to get creative and ask people to be involved. This has helped build a bigger, more diverse and better event each year. A wonderful spin off of has been the ongoing collaborations that have extended well beyond Culture Days weekend.
CD: What inspired you to get involved in Culture Days?
EB: Centre Wellington was inspired to start a Culture Days celebration in 2011 when the municipality began developing a Cultural Action Plan. Our local definition of culture is very broad and includes everything from arts and agriculture to festivals and events, quaint downtowns, natural and cultural heritage to sport and recreation. As an essential part of the cultural planning process, we created a dialogue on Cultural Centre Wellington by engaging cultural and community groups, as well as the community in general. Culture Days was a great way to highlight, promote and celebrate our amazing cultural community. Our first Culture Days celebration was in 2012 and we have continued to celebrate culture every year since.
CD: What shape did Culture Days take in Centre Wellington?
EB: The Township of Centre Wellington’s Tourism & Culture department coordinates Culture Days in our community. For all of our Culture Days events, we have used a Culture Passport as the platform for our celebrations. For a small rural community, we are very lucky to have a great wealth of cultural assets with many great events taking place year-round including the Culture Days weekend. The Culture Days Passport 2014 was a natural way to highlight what was already going on (for example, a Studio Tour and Farmers Market) and to invite as many people as possible to get involved.
CD: How did you attract and mobilize participants?
EB: To build our passport, we used our internal contact list and media sources to approach groups with existing events; we also sent out a call for others to join. We like to think big, and had some ideas on how to make the weekend celebrations even more robust and collaborative, so we approached groups individually and simply asked if they would like to be involved. We seized every opportunity to include anyone who was interested in participating but didn’t know how they fit by partnering with other groups/events or offering the opportunity to sponsor an event or donate a prize. No one is ever left out. In return for participating, every group, person, business is promoted significantly by us.
CD: How did you go about creating successful partnerships?
EB: We are pretty passionate about our cultural community and the contributions it makes to our community as a whole and we love to talk about it - a lot! This encourages groups with whom we already have an excellent relationship to continue to be involved. They know they will be supported and well promoted. This also helps us build new relationships and we work hard to incorporate everyone interested into our Culture Days event. We are also not shy to get creative and ask people to be involved. This has helped build a bigger, more diverse and better event with each passing year. A wonderful spin off of has been the ongoing networking and collaborations that have developed and extended well beyond Culture Days weekend.
CD: What were the greatest challenges you faced as a Community Organizer? Do you have any advice for other Community Organizers?
EB: The biggest challenge is the coordination of information by deadlines. Many groups are volunteer-driven so it takes a great deal of time, organization, persistence and on-going communication to finalize Culture Days event details. Our best advice is make expectations clear and continue to follow up.
Another challenge has been funding. We run Culture Days on a shoestring budget focused primarily on coordinating and producing the passport. The need to be creative and incorporate all resources is imperative. We take advantage of all free promotion; use the resources from Culture Days; and ask our cultural community to help using any available resources.
CD: In what ways would we consider Culture Days a success in Centre Wellington?
EB: As coordinators of Culture Days, success is the opportunity to celebrate local culture. It’s cliché but true. Success: seeing a member of the public visiting and enjoying a cultural space. Success: the collaboration that takes place and the relationships that form because of Culture Days. Success: the great time that everyone (cultural creators, presenters and participants alike) has on that weekend. Success: the growing awareness of our cultural community.
In Centre Wellington, Culture Days has been fully embraced by our community and momentum continues to build. It is hard work but we are really lucky have a role to play and feedback is consistently positive and encouraging. We are excited to be planning our Culture Days Passport for 2015.
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