The City of London invested in the artistic community and the LOLA Festival provides an opportunity to put the London arts scene on the map.

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

LOLA Front Page

There’s energy in the London arts community and people are taking notice.

With this weekend marking the second annual London Ontario Live Arts (LOLA) Festival, downtown will be transformed into an outdoor artistic hub and Hillside Festival-worthy concert space.

Free outdoor performances from well-known indie bands like Grizzly Bear, Final Fantasy and Beach House and art exhibits including Brian Eno’s Canadian premiere of 77 Million Paintings will be featured at LOLA.

The energy has arts-deprived locals and Western students scratching their heads wondering how these acts ever got listed to play in a city like ours.

“People are absolutely surprised,” LOLA Festival Director, Andrew Francis, enthuses. “Everyone has decided for whatever reason that London has to be this super provincial, conservative enclave for business and research and have written off any possibilities [for the arts]. But the fact is there’s some world-class stuff happening in the city, we’re just trying to reflect what the city is capable of through the lineup we’re bringing.”

Recently, London City Council stepped up, enhancing the artistic and cultural infrastructure of the city. By making a larger investment in the London Arts Council (LAC), several opportunities have opened up for independent artists and musicians.

There are hidden forces that have contributed to the growth of the artistic community. Three years ago, a Creative City Task Force (CCTF) was approved by the LAC and it created a list of recommendations to improve the growth of London, not just in the arts and culture but in all aspects of the community.

“For the first time we really put the arts and culture issues on the City Council’s front door and I think that made a great statement for people in that industry and that profession,” Gord Hume, chairman of the CCTF, says. “Our report provided a certain umbrella of comfort in which [the artists] could feel more comfortable operating and existing, knowing that the city now recognizes their contributions, their importance, [and] their value to our city.”

LAC executive director, Andrea Halwa, was particularly interested in serving on the CCTF because they were able to explore the impact on the opportunities that arts and technology, economic development, education, heritage, diversity and environment create in London.

“It was the role of CCTF to create an environment in which we could have almost like a think tank of possibilities, come up with recommendations and ideas that could keep us competitive, to move us forward, to address issues and to have a forum to be able to do that,” Halwa says.

The document wasn’t just shelved. Instead, it has been both embraced and challenged by community members.

“When people are feeling passionate and they’re responding and they’re talking about it, that means that you have success,” Halwa adds.

According to the CCTF Report, its two main goals include “improving [London’s] economy by attracting the creative class and 25 to 44-year-olds so that London will prosper in the future” and “changing how London thinks.”

“[LOLA] was really a response to the Creative City Committee and to other things that have been happening behind the scenes municipally,” Francis says. “[They were] asking for some entrepreneurial initiative that would get up and really start to put London first and put London on the map.”

Since CCTF’s creation, the visibility of London’s artistic community has increased. It has become a model in Canada for how a municipality can advance the arts community.

With a new LAC resource centre in front of London Public Library, a number of people have visited the facility looking for programs, finding support and making connections.

LAC’s Community Arts Investment Program helps to fund artistic organizations and individuals. The program has $200,000 that LAC invests each year into the community. Grant applications from individual artists and organizations are determined by a jury selection committee that reviews them then allocates the money accordingly. The program has invested $6,000 in the LOLA events.

“I think something like LOLA provides a window for people who may not normally get to experience these arts. [They] will get to really soak it up for three or four days and maybe they would go on to explore " you know, buy some CDs or go check out some other exhibits in London,” Francis says. “We’re hoping that people develop a way of making the arts relevant to them outside of gallery spaces.”

“And there are ways that students can get engaged with the city,” Hume adds. “We want students to clearly understand there’s more to London than the bars on Richmond Street, that we have a vibrant arts and cultural scene that a lot of them don’t know about.”

With its exciting projects like LOLA and heavy investment in the arts scene, is the goal of CCTF simply to turn London into downtown Toronto?

“Toronto is an interesting case study for us but do we want to be Toronto, absolutely not,” Hume states. “We want to be London but a better London than five years ago and a better London [five years from now than we presently are].”

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