Culture and creativity: not just for big cities

Professor Eddie Friel addresses delegates at the OSUM conference in Cornwall.

Professor Eddie Friel addresses delegates at the OSUM conference in Cornwall.

The social and economic benefits of promoting culture and creativity are not constrained within the exclusive domain of large cities and metropolitan areas. That was the message clearly delivered by the impressive group of speakers who made presentations at the recent OSUM conference, held in Cornwall, Ontario.

Included in the line-up of speakers were Professor Eddie Friel, credited with developing policies to transform Glasgow, Scotland from a perceived decaying industrial city to a thriving tourist destination – and the first person to recognize the role of cultural tourism as a driver of economic regeneration; Glen Murray, former mayor of Winnipeg, and currently president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute; and Gord Hume, City of London controller, and author of the book Cultural Planning for Creative Communities.

Speaking to the conference theme of “Staying Strong in Challenging Times,” these presenters all made a strong case for small urban and rural communities to embrace culture and creativity as important tools in the effort to rejuvenate and revitalize their communities.

Friel shared his experience in Glasgow as a powerful example of the benefits communities can realize if they learn to appreciate and promote local history, heritage, and culture. “No one can hijack that,” says Friel. His advice: think about what you have that no one else does that is of global significance; if you don’t have it, create it. Then, take it to market.

Glen Murray’s message was similar, drawing on his experiences working to transform downtown Winnipeg. The knowledge economy, he said, is about finding, retaining, and attracting creative people who can build and create the businesses to help the community succeed.

Gord Hume wrapped up the culture stream with a a well-attended workshop where he shared insights about the challenges of transitioning to a creative economy – and the investments required. “It takes courage,” he says, “but it’s the right time to invest now … Now is not the time to flinch.”

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