message from the executive director


THERE IS! arts and culture leadership in Waterloo region

Recently, I have heard disheartening statements about there being a lack of leadership in arts and culture in the Waterloo region.  There is strong leadership in arts and culture in Waterloo region.  I see it in many places and in a variety of ways.  It is not a singular phenomenon; it does not encompass one organization, a pilot program, or a single individual.  Leadership in the arts is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. 

I see arts and culture leadership in the exquisite and innovative performances of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony; in the extraordinary vision of artists who are pushing the boundaries of clay and glass at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery; in the magical voices of Kitchener-Waterloo's Grand Philharmonic Choir, and the joyful noise of children emanating out of the Maker Space at THEMUSEUM.  I see it in MT Space's challenging and provocative productions, Registry Theatre's plays, NUMUS' contemporary music, and Neruda's performances.  I see it in the public art projects organized by CAFKA and Night/Shift.  I see it at the Drayton Entertainment venues, in our libraries, and art galleries, large and small.   

Cultural leadership is the act of leading the cultural sector; and like culture itself, it comes from many different people and can be practised in many different ways. It includes CEOs, Senior Managers, Artistic Directors, and Executive Directors in our cultural institutions; also educators, and public officials who are developing and implementing policy for the cultural sector; and a huge range of producers, innovators and entrepreneurs in small companies, production houses and teams.

In the cultural world, a world I know very well, nobody has a monopoly on leadership.

Leading the cultural sector does involve competently managing an organization ensuring that it is financially viable, legal and with qualified staff.  However, leading culture is also about enabling the production of art, performance productions and projects which open the door to different ways of thinking, feeling and experiencing the world, and bringing dynamism to the economy and wider society. 

Cultural organisations are different from other organisations including businesses and as such face their own distinctive challenges. Cultural organisations are geared towards producing new ideas. It is their production of these new ideas as performances, exhibitions, styles and sounds which makes them cultural.  Balancing this priority, with the need to run a financially sustainable organisation and hopefully one that makes a positive difference to the world, is what gives cultural leaders a unique set of challenges.

There are strong arts and culture leaders in Waterloo region; and here are some results of their hard work. Unlike some businesses, whose concerns usually rest with the bottom line, arts and culture leaders measure their impact in social as well as economic ways.  Not everything is quantitative.

They collaborate.  For example, the Alliance for a Grand Community, composed of Executive Directors who lead various cultural institutions in our community, meet monthly, strategizing on how to work together and combine efforts on the cultural front for the benefit of the community.  For example, The AGC was responsible for raising awareness of the value of our creative industries during the last election debates, as well as sharing and providing a brief on federal government's 150th funding initiatives. Speakers are brought in monthly to share initiatives and possible collaborations including tourism, economic development, board development, granting opportunities, and shared purchasing, among others.  Members of this organization also offer professional development workshops to artists and cultural workers.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery engage with external organizations in the social and business sector, such as Winston Park at Schlegel Villages to make a difference in our community's seniors' wellbeing and quality of life through music and art programs. The arts and culture organizations in the Waterloo Region embraced and welcomed Syrian refugees making them feel at home through offering free programming in the arts.  Our arts and culture community contribute in unique ways to the creative education of our children from K to 12.

Collaboration between arts institutions and municipal funders has evolved into the new joined up thinking around the four Key Cultural Institutions that now are funded collectively by the Cities of Waterloo and Kitchener and the Region of Waterloo.  That could not have happened without leadership from the local authorities and a constructive and collaborative response from arts leaders in the four organizations involved.  From 2016 onwards, these key institutions and the municipalities that fund them have been made manifestly more accountable for their investment of public money.

Notwithstanding the wide range of artists and organizations that make up the arts and culture community in this region, there are occasions when the totality of their achievement is already celebrated.  The most obvious example is the Waterloo Region Arts Awards; though that body is currently reassessing its next steps, it seems committed to presenting the next such awards by 2018.  From a different perspective, the City of Waterloo's "Amplify" day-long summit in fall 2016 explicitly recognized the role of arts and culture right across the region.

The arts and culture sector in our region is connected to rich and diverse networks of supporters, funders and collaborators. They contribute to producing innovative and great ideas that make new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling possible - all about an expression of human freedom.  Our cultural leaders have conviction and I have witnessed them work towards our community's benefit and well-being in big ways.

There is leadership in arts and culture in Waterloo region.


Shirley Madill
Executive Director
Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery 

March 2017

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