There’s an old proverb that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
This is the premise Airdrie’s Arts & Culture Council Assessment Committee (ACAC) is building on as it creates a new, dedicated pathway to nurturing arts and culture, the highlight being Airdrie Library’s Multi-Use Space Feasibility plan.
The new library is scheduled to open in 2025 in the old fire hall on Main Street. The 85,000-square-foot facility will dedicate 60,000 to the library, and 25,000 to the multi-use facility. The cost, $63,703,550, will cover availability for programming, community gathering, a coffee shop, pop-up markets and related retail. The goal is to bring like-minded artists and residents together, to share information and provide opportunities for groups to work together.
Councillor Heather Spearman has more than 20 years of experience in arts and culture as an educator, performer and producer. She is also co-chair of ACAC.
“I really wanted to sit on this committee,” she says, “and I believe a thriving community reflects the health of arts and culture. I think we had hit a wall at some point, as a community, so I really appreciate this council reaching out for stakeholder input … really finding out what those groups want to see here, what they need here.”
There are some circles that believe arts and culture are a ‘want to have,’ not a ‘need to have.’
Spearman vehemently disagrees.
“The pandemic certainly proved to us that a community turns to the arts during a crisis,” referring to the explosion of such providers as Netflix. “They are critical to the mental and physical health of a community.”
A multi-use facility is not the end and be all if there is no financial sustainability to ensure its future. The ACAC, as part of its mandate, is to create a funding model to ensure viability for arts and culture.
Co-chair Christina Waldner has a long journalism resume, which includes communications, and loves all aspects of the arts.
“I guess I would say it’s where I live and breathe,” she laughs. “My parents always ensured not only our attendance but our involvement as well.”
There is no official arts council in Airdrie, and Waldner explains that all the different groups here are kind of on their own.
“This community of arts and culture has been moving forward, albeit in fits and starts, for at least 20 years. What’s exciting to me is that this overall plan involves practitioners, consumers and governance,” she says.
“This council has recognized our grassroots movement here and is prepared to ensure its success. And we have to do it in such a way that arts and culture do not continue to have their needs met on a piecemeal basis.
“We want to keep our kids here, our artists here, our creators here,” says Waldner.
There is obvious recognition that the past two years during COVID have been difficult for performers, athletes, anyone involved with other people.
“As a member of a choir,” shares Waldner, “there were no rehearsals, and no performances. In that vacuum, so many virtual choirs were created, and grew worldwide exponentially. I’ve been thrilled to be a part of them. But I’m really, as many in all the other fields are, looking forward to being together, performing for others.”
The ACAC, established in March of this year, is comprised of two members of council and eight citizens, and will include staff and a facilitator. This working group will operate until Dec. 31, 2022.
The committee’s meeting summaries are available online at the City of Airdrie, as is their Terms of Reference.