Alberta Culture ForumOn February 24 and 25, 2012 nearly 400 community leaders from across Alberta representing a wide spectrum of cultural interests and involvements gathered in Red Deer at a unique event called Culture Forum 2012. The goal of the forum was to find innovative solutions to common challenges while capitalizing on opportunities to build a sustainable culture sector. Hosted by Alberta Culture and Community Services Minister Heather Klimchuk, attendees were asked to educate, evolve, explore and engage through networking and small group workshops. The result was a series of strategies to address challenges frequently faced by individuals and organizations striving to make Alberta’s culture sector healthy and sustainable.

This brief summary provides insight into what was discussed at the forum. It is not intended to be exhaustive but is representative of the main points raised by many in small group discussions. A more detailed report will be produced after online input from Albertans is collected. The deadline for completing the online survey is March 28. For more information about this summary or Culture Forum 2012 please contact ccs.cultureforum@gov.ab.ca or call 780.415.0281 (to call toll‐free in Alberta dial 310‐0000).

What is Culture?

The workshop portion of Culture Forum 2012 opened with a discussion regarding what is meant by culture or the culture sector in Alberta. While some sought to define it, most chose instead to emphasize that culture cannot be easily mapped because of its complexity. What is culture to one person may be different from another’s, noted many, but both are likely valid.

Many groups agreed that culture is the embodiment of who we are, what we do and how we live as Albertans. The broad diversity of those in attendance at Culture Forum 2012 ‐ from social service and sports organizations to museums and the performing arts ‐ was evidence of that. The sentiment that culture permeates Alberta was perhaps best expressed by a youth delegate, who noted “culture is life.”

Healthy and Sustainable Culture

A healthy and sustainable culture requires a lot of cooperation and collaboration between various players, said many delegates. It requires early and often exposure to young people in school and many easy‐to‐access touch points for adults. And it requires governments, corporate Alberta and other sponsors to provide predictable funding so key resources, like staff and volunteers, can be properly supported.

A culture that is vibrant and alive also is adaptable. Many groups noted organizations need to be open‐minded about change and sensitive to an ever‐shifting cultural landscape. This flexibility requires strong leadership, listening skills and a willingness to incorporate innovation and new approaches into plans and programs.

Challenges

While culture may be the essence of who we are as Albertans, discussion groups at Culture Forum 2012 felt too many Albertans lack an understanding of the relevancy or value of culture to them. This undermines efforts by culture sector organizations to attract and engage the resources and people they need to fully blossom.

Most organizations understand that exposure is the key to overcoming this deficit but most struggle to market, promote and generate sufficient awareness of their own activities. There is a tremendous need to shine a light on the impact culture has on Albertans, said forum participants, and the Government of Alberta should play a major role in making that happen.

Sufficient investment in planning and development is also a challenge for most organizations. Many people said they felt overwhelmed by administrative demands and the ‘business of culture’. Fund development, accounting and reporting, and other tasks left little time to nurture and grow the organization or attract and mentor staff, volunteers and future leaders. While accountability was seen as necessary, many questioned whether the right balance between accountability and fostering culture currently exists.

There was a willingness amongst delegates to seek more opportunities to collaborate and partner with others but many admitted competition for dollars, volunteers and patrons often creates a major barrier to good intentions.

Strategies

There was a host of strategies put forward by the working groups to address challenges and seize opportunities. The following list is not exhaustive but does reflect what multiple groups felt were priorities.

  • The level and frequency of the cultural experience in schools should be increased. Many groups felt culture should be embedded in the Alberta curriculum as a core subject.
  • Stakeholders should work together to increase awareness and accessibility of cultural experiences amongst Albertans.
  • More Albertans should be encouraged to volunteer in cultural activities. Primary targets for a recruitment campaign should be youth, baby boomers and corporations and its staffs.
  • A major and sustained marketing campaign should be developed to promote the value and benefits of culture to the province and individual Albertans.
  • Make culture a higher priority within and across all Alberta government departments so that there is a shared responsibility for culture policy, goals and outcomes.
  • Organizations should seek ways to collaborate and partner on fundamental needs like best practices, space, professional development, and financial services. Several groups mentioned a good start point would be a culture‐focused, centralized bank, database or clearinghouse that could serve as an information resource and exchange. It was suggested community and government leaders work together to create a climate that fosters such collaborations and partnerships.
  • The Government of Alberta should provide secure, predictable, long‐term operational funding to the culture sector and streamline funding support processes for organizations.
  • The Government of Alberta should create or enhance donor investment and volunteer incentives including tax incentives.
  • All levels of government and private funders should explore new funding models to ensure optimum delivery of supports. A few groups felt the focus for new modeling should be on core funding.
  • Regular dialogue should be held between culture stakeholders to continue to identify issues and work towards common goals.

The information and feedback received through Culture Forum 2012 and the broader public survey will help government, the corporate community and the culture sector build a solid foundation for culture to prosper in our province.