Editorial: Midland’s Cultural Catalyst
The corner of King and Elizabeth Streets in the Town of Midland (pop. 16,300) may not be Ontario’s liveliest intersection of culture and commerce, but it certainly embodies a larger trend of rethinking the strategic importance of smaller communities seeking greater prosperity for their future. What is the primary catalyst in this endeavour? The opening of a new cultural centre for Midland in early June.
Designed by Howard Rideout Architect, the Midland Cultural Centre (MCC) is a 30,000-square-foot facility that includes art galleries, classrooms, a black-box theatre, banquet facilities, a café and other performance spaces. Although its $7.5-million budget may seem insignificant, the MCC’s impact on the community will be transformative. The facility has already proven successful at bringing together leading entrepreneurs and organizations in Midland and the surrounding Simcoe County who recognize that arts, culture and education are integral components to the region’s success. The MCC’s major funder was local businessman Reinhart Weber. Through his foundation, Weber has also contributed millions of dollars to support local social agencies, hospitals, and educational institutions. When champions of business, arts and culture work together, communities like Midland become more attractive to outside investors while also offering greater support to existing institutions such as Georgian College and the Huronia Players Theatre. The best investment that Midland can make to ensure its future prosperity is to attract innovation and creativity though partnerships that leverage the community’s cultural and economic assets. These challenges are similar to countless towns of a similar size across Canada. When these challenges are met successfully, more buildings like the MCC will be built.
Last February, the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI), a think tank at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, published a report entitled Benchmarking the Creative Economy in Rural Ontario. The report applied the MPI’s Creativity Index to determine where future and sustainable economic growth is most likely to occur in smaller communities across Ontario. MPI’s Creativity Index is comprised of a variety of cultural capital components (i.e., educational resources, knowledge-based business, cultural diversity) that contribute to a “Creative Economy” where “the ability to mass-produce goods is subordinate to the innate human capability to generate new ideas, concepts, products and processes. The Creative Class is defined as people in occupations paid to think. Regions that attract and retain this group of workers are best positioned to succeed in the future.” The report examined 50 communities across Ontario, including Midland, which was ranked seventh overall.
In Midland, a higher percentage of its population works in art, culture, recreation and sport than in other rural communities examined in the province. Nevertheless, with low population growth, high unemployment and relatively low levels of post-secondary education, Midland still has a number of hurdles to clear.
Realistically, it will take more than a new cultural centre to propel the good fortunes of Midland forward, but the critical lesson to learn is the importance of recognizing a small town’s valiant efforts to link business and economic development with arts and culture—an effort that will undoubtedly serve to attract creative energy and spirit to Midland, thereby fostering greater prosperity for this Ontario community.
Ian Chodikoff [email protected]