New arts agency will help build Brampton's own boulevard of dreams
Photos from The Pointer files/Nida Zafar

New arts agency will help build Brampton's own boulevard of dreams

A new panel dedicated to making Brampton a hub for the arts is one step closer to becoming reality. The futuristic Brampton 2040 Vision document aims to reinvent the city through job creation, environmental stewardship and by creating a thriving arts scene. The Arts, Culture and Creative Industry Development Agency, or the Agency for short, approved by council on Wednesday, will help develop and advocate for the city’s creative industries. 


Councillors and city staff discussing the new arts agency at a committee meeting Wednesday


The decisions and actions of this group will have a stake in a large part of the 2040 Vision, the broad planning document that was approved by council as a guide for future growth. The Agency also supports themes that are present in the Cultural Master Plan, such as rebuilding Brampton’s identity and developing a community with spaces for artistic visionaries to come together. This plan, along with the Economic Development Master plan, which outlines Brampton’s strategy on job creation, investment and entrepreneurship, makes up a large part of the 2040 Vision. While the Agency will begin as an incubator — supported by funding from the city — the end goal is for it to become an independent non-profit corporation. According to the report by city staff, the Agency will get $372,000 to operate this year. This new corporation will have access to a large capacity of funding from government sources, through the budget, grants and other means, which will be given to artists on behalf of the city. The Agency will conduct business at arm’s length, which means it will work with the government to secure funding, while decisions are made without any political interference.  

The creation of sustainable jobs plays a major role in the 2040 Vision, as does making complete neighbourhoods that fulfil the city’s arts and culture vision. Everything from visual and digital arts to fashion, film and culinary arts are a part of this vision. Each of these creative endeavours has potential to be a source of job creation and play a role in making Brampton an employment hub. The Agency will play a pivotal part in ensuring that arts groups get the funding they need to continue their work, in turn creating jobs. The Agency will provide funding for grants and sponsorships as well as enable the artistic community to grow with the provision of leadership and workshops. Together, these initiatives help people refine their skills, which in turn can be used in the job market.

The revitalization of the Queen Street Corridor is another area that the Agency can directly influence. The 2040 Vision magnifies this area as one of the best ways to create a “boulevard lifestyle,” which essentially gives residents in the area access to everything they need at their fingertips.

According to planning documents, cafes, shopping, and public art will all play a big role in this area. Presently, Brampton is infamously known as an area with not much to do. Part of this could be due to the fact that neighbourhoods aren’t complete with activities that entertain residents. It’s challenging for people to find activities to enjoy in their day-to-day lives, and this is a factor that takes prominence in the 2040 Vision. The document states that “the normally expected kinds of activities that fill out a fulfilling day-to-day living experience are also in short supply in Brampton, or they are so dispersed that they are difficult to access for most people.”


Brampton Wards 7 and 8 Councillor Charmaine Williams


Cultural and arts offerings are listed as one of the half dozen examples in the report people want to see more of. With little things to do, people are reaching out to other cities for entertainment. As city councillor for Wards 7 and 8 Charmaine Williams said during the committee meeting, many people visit the various Artscape locations in Toronto when they could be attending something similar in Brampton. These concerns will be strongly affected by the decisions of the Agency.


Part of Brampton's 2040 Vision


The creation of the Agency comes from bitter endings. Brampton dismantled its previous Arts Council in 2015 due to a lack of funding. Despite this, councillors echoed many other reasons in chambers Wednesday, from favouritism to a loss of control that saw the almost 40-year-old group shut down. The previous council also followed the model of being an arm’s length group, the same model the Agency will follow. 

Influence from the city could still surround the arts sector in decisions made by the Agency. The panel will start off with a chairperson, who will be elected by council from a list city staff put together of the best people to fill the position. The chairperson will then be responsible for finding panel members, ensuring there’s a balance of skills and interests on the team. At least one of the members who will be part of the team is a city councillor. According to the staff report, this councillor will be responsible for representing many factors of the team, including being part of the Brampton demographic as well as being a representative of the government/public sector. 

It's not clear if this role will create similar issues as last time, but having at least one member of council on the team is standard practice as it provides “useful conduct between organization and council.” The City of Brampton hired consulting team Pru Robey Consulting, as well as LeSage Arts Management, for guidance on the report. Wards 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman filled this position on the previous council. He told The Pointer that he only held this position for a couple of months, before the council was shut down. 


Brampton Wards 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman


The timeline for the panel to become a registered independent non-profit corporation is five years. However, on Wednesday city staff said this time frame could be shortened. Two of the largest deciding factors for this would be the negotiation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which will be a contract between the Agency and the city, for a service level agreement. According to the report, this MOU will illustrate the services the Agency will provide and the funding the city would give the organization.

The passing of the motion on Wednesday started with an emotional delegation from Sharon Vandrish, president of the Brampton Music Theatre who further questioned the timeline and input from local artists in the creation of the Agency. It took a year for staff to consider the possibility of creating an arts task force in the city, and the five year timeline to turn this into an independent corporation is concerning, Vandrish said. 

She was also worried that the panel may not contain as much input from local arts leaders as necessary and questioned if artists were fairly included in the process. 

“We fail to see where this valuable and extremely important merit is added to the mix of the future of the plans of the arm’s length model. The previous arts council was spawned by arts leaders in our community. The same people who stand here often and those who make you proud of your city, are those who you should empower to engage in these initiatives,” Vandrish told the council. 

Out of the potential seven member team city staff outlined in their report, only one member of the panel will be under the official title of artist. But city staff said there is an opportunity for this panel to grow and this will be discussed in ongoing stages. 

The overall aim is for the Agency to become a fully functioning independent non-profit organization by 2024. When it does, the panel will become part of the official team. If the Agency panel doesn't make the transition to an independent nonprofit corporation by 2024, the project could be shut down.

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