This morning, one of the candidates for Mayor made an announcement in support of the city’s music industry. I’ve been asked about it and thought I’d share my perspective. In my time on Council, I’ve been a champion for the music industry and its unofficial music liaison. In the last term, I was happy to be joined often in some of that work by Councillor Luloff, who is actually a musician (and a damned good one).
In 2017 the Junos were the impetus to the creation of the Ottawa Music Strategy that came about after significant consultations with stakeholders in the industry and broader economy. I was fortunate to have as an enthusiastic partner in that effort the Mayor as well as City staff. The strategy set out a number of achievable goals. There was follow-up on the City’s part with respect to several of the recommendations, including a review of the zoning by-law to ensure non-traditional venues could be used as performance space, the creation of a load-in permit, and a commitment to better use City facilities. I also worked with our events folks to build in sexual assault training into permits. We now have an annual awards show that is a must-attend for those interested in the local music scene. We don’t yet have, though, a full-time music officer – a staff person in Culture has that responsibility on a part-time basis. And, we don’t yet have a hall of fame.
Likely one of the most impactful outcomes has been the new priority that the City’s economic development folks have put on live music in partnership with the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition. There is stable funding for that organization now, which has helped support professional development.
One of the most obvious consequences of that new priority has been the funding that has flowed from the City into live music performance as an economic spur to respond first to the pandemic, and then to the occupation. There have been several rounds of funding that have resulted in live music shows on the street in partnership with BIAs in our public realm spaces. There was also, in recognition of the impact the pandemic has had on the live music industry, several shows funded by the City with dozens of artists streamed and archived from Centrepointe and Shenkman. These are all important events that paid artists and techs and celebrated the incredible music talent we have in the city.
In his announcement this morning, candidate Mark Sutcliffe has put his finger on a key piece of unfinished business: show listings. Organizations like Apartment613 do their best to let residents know what’s going on, but visitors to the city and folks who may not be fully engaged with the music scene likely struggle to find shows. Venues and promoters don’t have great channels to put their offerings in front of residents who may not be regular show attendees, but who would love to know what’s going on tonight on those occasions when they have a babysitter or friends in from out of town.
All in all, the announcement speaks to work that is already ongoing and where there are a few pieces of unfinished business. This Council made music a priority in its economic development priorities, and we’ve been making steady (and sometimes quick) progress on that. My expectation is that we’ll continue down that path no matter who the new Mayor is.
What we’re still missing are some more game-changing commitments. Our venues have struggled. This year, Mayor Tory announced permanent tax breaks for music venues. We’ve got some precedent in the targeted post-pandemic tax relief that we’ve offered small businesses that could contemplate doing the same here. A new Council and Mayor could be the opportunity to do make the same commitment. And, there is always discussion about the “missing middle”: a mid-size venue that would host larger shows and capture more shows that currently skip over us between YYZ and YUL. The OSEG proposal for Lansdowne may be that opportunity, but that’s up in the air.
Finally, in the nightlife strategy consultations to date there has been one dominant theme: the need for better public transit that serves people out for a night of entertainment. Of all my suggestions for a truly game-changing announcement, later LRT hours and transit convenience/affordability would be top of the list.
What I hope many of the candidates running for mayor and councillor share is a common appreciation that music, especially performance, is part of what makes living in the city so enriching. When we’re surrounded by people who are sharing their talents and gifts, we all benefit. Music is also critical to our economy, and we all prosper when artists and technicians are supported. I’m glad to see the arts as part of this campaign’s conversation, and my commitment is to keep that going through the next term of Council.