Guelph Arts Council
Celebrates 25 Years

Twenty-five years! That’s a long time in the life of any arts organization, especially a community arts council. But Guelph Arts Council was one of Ontario’s first community arts councils, and it is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the year 2000.

Much has happened in the past 25 years. Certainly, the arts and cultural life of this community is vastly different than it was a quarter of a century ago, and there is no doubt that Guelph Arts Council has played a role in this transformation.

ûuelph Arts Council traces its beginnings back to the summer of 1974 when the late Edith Kidd presented a comprehensive report on the need for a Guelph civic centre. Commissioned by Guelph City Council, the Kidd Report commented on a “busy and diversified” Guelph arts scene which was “frustrated by poor facilities and lack of co-ordination.” In September 1974, City Council responded to the report and the community shortcomings identified therein by directing then Mayor Norm Jary to establish an arts council for the community. Public meetings were convened, elections held and a charter, dated May 6, 1975, obtained from the Province of Ontario.

Initially, the fledgling council put considerable energy into carrying out the City’s request to undertake further investigations regarding a Guelph Civic Centre, although the Arts Council’s founders would never have believed — in their wildest dreams (or nightmares) — that they were taking the first steps in what turned out to be a more-than-20-year saga. Now, in 2000, Guelph is reaping the benefits of these early efforts, enjoying its splendid performing arts facility, River Run Centre.

But Guelph Arts Council’s founding mandate went far beyond this initial civic centre raison d’etreû Charged with the task of stimulating, encouraging and co-ordinating the development of arts activities within the community, Guelph Arts Council launched a “community career” as arts incubator facilitator, arts programmer, arts resource, arts support-service provider and arts representative advocate. The result has been a greatly-enhanced cultural life for the City of Guelph.

In the area of arts incubation facilitation, for instance, in addition to a very active part in the development of a performing arts facility, Guelph Arts Council has played a role in the establishment of at least 20 different community organizations and undertakings across the entire cultural spectrum. These groups have added immeasurably to the cultural fabric of this community, in essence helping to make Guelph the interesting place it is today.

Guelph Arts Council has also played a role in arts programming, although only in those areas where there have been identified gaps in community cultural offerings. Such programming has been far-reaching. In the early years, there were the Guelph Cultural Olympics; writing contests; exhibitions such as A Tempest of Teapots or Craftworks; and bus trips to interesting exhibitions and events outside the community. More recently, one can point to Discover Guelph: Be a Tourist in Your Own Town, and the publication of A Guide to Public Art in Guelph both aimed at helping to make Guelph residents more aware of the many cultural treasures in this community. There have been programs for children such as the Paint-a-Phrase art/storytelling sessions for kids, and Youth in Performance which offered Gueph youth a showcase opportunity and established trust fund for Guelph Arts Council’s Youth Awards program. Heritage awareness has long been and remains today an important area of Council involvement with such programs as annual Heritage Awards to recognize local property owners who restore, preserve or develop their heritage properties; five Historical Walking Tours of Guelph and the publication of five tour booklets. However, as the City has become more culturally developed, Guelph Arts Council’s direct involvement in programming has become less necessary, allowing precious resources to be directed to other community cultural needs.

One such expanding need, especially in a growing community, has been that of arts-related resource information. Because it has become what one might call the “911 for the Arts in Guelph,” Guelph Arts Council now devotes a considerable portion of its energies in this direction. There is the Council’s newsletter, Arts in Guelph published bi-monthly and featuring a comprehensive calendar of events as well as timely articles on arts and cultural activities and issues. Complementing this publication is the Master Events Calendar which tracks community events for several month at a time, thus assisting community groups in planning their events, especially to avoid scheduling conflicts. There is also the Council’s Resource Centre library of arts-related reference books, magazines and how-to pamphlets as well as information files on local, provincial and national arts organizations and the Arts Directory database of local artists and arts groups.

Guelph Arts Council also has a long history of providing various support services to community arts organizations and artists. These range from the use of office equipment items (photocopier, postage meter, fax, paper cutter) to the insert mailing service (flyers included with newsletter mailings) and use of meeting workshop space in the Council’s Boardroom. Council staff offer guidance and assistance on publicity and promotion, arts management administration and other issues of concern or interest to the arts community (such as grants or copyright). Guelph Arts Council has also offered educational opportunities to local artists and arts groups, sponsoring work hops on subjects such as photography or business of crafts, church choirs or dance as well as information evenings on such topics as grants, taxation, jurying, copyright or marketing. And, the most recent innovation, the popular Arts Schmoozefest networking sessions, held three or four times a year, offer artists and those interested in the arts an opportunity to meet informally and share information.

Over the years, Guelph Arts Council has also gained a reputation as the “voice of the arts” in Guelph, representing arts, culture and heritage on many community ventures. To name only a few, there have been Council involvements in the Mannie Birnbaum Volunteer Workshop; the City of Guelph’s Economic Strategic Plan; Communities in Bloom; Guelph Visitor and Convention Services; “Guelph: The City of Music” Committee; A Visionary Tradition Conference; and the City of Guelph Millennium Time Sculpture. Guelph Arts Council has also been active at the provincial level, participating in the establishment of Community Arts Ontario (provincial association of arts councils); sitting on or hosting many provincial or regional task forces; and providing guidance and advice to new and emerging community arts councils.

So, these have been 25 fruitful years of activity for Guelph Arts Council. Amazingly, they have also been years
of relative financial stability. There have certainly been very difficult times, especially in the past five years when the cuts to the arts and arts organizations "ave been unrelenting. Throughout, however, Guelph Arts Council has continued to earn strong support from its funders, mainly Ontario Arts Council and the City of Guelph, as well as the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation and more recently the Trillium Foundation. The Council has also worked exceptionally hard to generate increasingly more of its own revenues, through individual and corporate fundraising appeals and such remarkable successes as Fête Romantique, which has just chalked up its 14th annual sales record.

In conclusion, Guelph Arts Council has much to celebrate in this, the first year of a new millennium. That the Council is alive and well and vitally involved in the community is certainly cause for celebration as is the fact that there have been so many accomplishments and achievements in arts, culture and heritage over the past 25 years. Guelph Arts Council is pleased and proud to have played a meaningful part in these developments, and is poised and ready to continue its role of stimulating and co-ordinating the arts in Guelph. May Guelph continue to grow as a vibrant cultural community!