By Joseph Mathieu
Illustration by Curtis Delaney
At the end of March, during the avalanche of events that was JUNO week, City Hall announced an investment of $30,000 in developing a music strategy for the nation’s capital.
Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Jeff Leiper announced the funding at the Innovation Centre’s “Ottawa as a Music City” panel discussion that the mayor said would “come up with an action plan that can help us to create a music city in Ottawa.”
Think music city—what comes to mind? Maybe Memphis, New Orleans, or Austin. Add London, Melbourne, and Bogotá to that list. These are part of a growing network of cities around the world that see recorded and live music industries as ways to improve quality of life and also strengthen their economies.
The funding signals that City Hall is ready to invest in some of the ideas that an organized industry has come up with in recent years.
A city music strategy was a recommendation from the 2015 Connecting Ottawa Music report that coincided with the first annual MEGAPHONO music industry showcase. The report also recommended the formation of an independent organization to rally the community and develop the music industry. This came to be with the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC), which formed shortly after the report came out.
Andrew Vincent, a co-author of the report and now the executive director of OMIC, will be drafting the strategy with the help of industry partners.
“If Connecting Ottawa Music was a profile of Ottawa’s music industry scenes, then this strategy will be where we can go and how we can get there,” said Vincent. “I hope we find in it opportunities we didn’t see before.”
OMIC is a not-for-profit, membership-based organization dedicated to growing the city’s music industry for the benefit of its artists, businesses, and the city as a whole. Its research on developing the industry in Ottawa is based on the responses of musicians, recording engineers, venue owners, and promoters.
Kwende Kefentse has been working on cultural research and development at City Hall for eight years. He developed the city’s Renewed Action Plan for Arts, Heritage, and Culture that was approved by council in 2012 which is where he said the funding is rooted—“it’s been cooking for a while.”
“The project funding is coming directly from the economic development and the cultural side of things,” said Kefentse. “It’s 50-50 in both funding and priorities.”
So far, the city has already thought about proper loading zones for venues and the tweaking of noise by-laws, as well as grant programs for festivals to showcase more local talent.
Larger issues like smaller attendance to shows and venue closure are problems faced in every city. Several recent closures in Toronto and the more recent announcement of the beloved Zaphod Beeblebrox in the ByWard Market have driven that home.
Mayor Jim Watson acknowledged that music is a growth industry in Ottawa, one that shapes cultural and economic benefits, and there are challenges to overcome. In a strategy, he hopes to see “something ambitious but affordable.”
“We don’t need a report that comes up with big-ticket items,” he said. “We have to come up with reasonable goals.”
Vincent said the strategy will focus on long-term goals, on “what’s realistic and practical, [because] we want it to be useful.”
He will assemble a task force of music and film industry partners and business leaders to develop the strategy, and hopes to have a draft by the end of the year. •