By Chet Greason
Consultancy firm Lord Cultural Resources has released the long-anticipated Municipal Cultural Plan for the Town of St. Marys.
After a somewhat exhaustive series of public consultations, interviews, meetings, and phone and Internet surveys, the organization has submitted the report, which contains recommendations meant to help the town capitalize on its cultural aspects, for public perusal.
In a brief presentation at a Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26, VP of Lord Cultural Resources Brad King outlined the plan and its contents, which included five “Points of Pride” that, King says, must be maintained: Warm, friendly people; small town charm; nature; architecture; and sports and recreation.
King pointed out that St. Marys already has a number of market-ready tourism products, such as the St. Marys Museum, which could be expanded upon.
“It’s a small town, but it’s in a big market centre,” observed King, pointing out the relatively short driving time to city centres like London, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Toronto. These circumstances, he notes, are ideal for attracting “cultural tourists,” an extremely desirable kind of tourist who take short day trips, are attracted by cultural events and destinations, and tend to spend more money than typical tourists.
King also recognized St. Marys’ aging population, and said the high number of retired or soon-to-be retired residents presents an opportunity to bolster the town’s already highly productive army of volunteers.
However, he noted that many of the town’s most industrious volunteers tend to experience burnout after a time. “Steps to support this pool of volunteers, prevent burnout, and ensure their long-term commitment to the support of culture should be developed,” reads the report.
Not to be left out, the young people of St. Marys were also highlighted.
“Few activities address young people in town,” noted King. “They’re really looking for activities beyond structured events.”
The report notes that infrastructure that allows young people to explore “...less structured, more spontaneous opportunities to exercise creativity should not be ignored.”
The report ends with a series of priorities, each with its own series of recommendations. Some of the initiatives the report suggests include:
• Hiring a full-time Cultural Officer responsible for managing and coordinating all aspects of culture in St. Marys.
• Hiring a new assistant for the existing Volunteer Coordinator to assist with the planning and implementation of all culturally-oriented, volunteer-run events.
• Establish a Newcomers Guide highlighting volunteer opportunities for new residents.
• Establish a Youth Task Force aimed at representing the interests of young people in St. Marys.
• Utilize the Town’s parks as stages for cultural happenings, including food festivals, heritage storytelling, and musical performances.
• Collaborate with artists to activate the Thames River as a place of cultural vitality with river-based art and performances.
• Expand already existing festivals, or piggyback new events with existing ones.
• Collaborate with artists to creatively activate vacant downtown spaces (ie. Pop-up museums and galleries).
• Develop a Tourism Master Plan.
• Design and implement a targeted marketing campaign for reaching audiences who visit the Stratford Festival.
King estimates that implementation of the recommendations would cost between $500,000 to $1.3 million over a 10-year period, depending on how much future Councils decide to invest.
Councillor Carey Pope said she was especially pleased that the youth were involved in the study, noting that the heritage angle may not appeal to everyone.
Councillor Don Van Galen wondered what the return on a $500,000 to $1.3 million investment would be, to which King admitted that his firm had not done an impact statement.
Councillor Bill Osborne said he believes St. Marys’ future lies in its cultural assets. “In the future, we may have some of the same industries...probably less. The town will need money incoming,” he observed.
If you’re interested in viewing a copy of the report in its entirety, it can be seen online on the town’s website (www.townofstmarys.com) under the municipal message board section. Hard copies are also available to view at Town Hall and the St. Marys Museum.