April 14th, 2024

Chamber hosts arts and culture panel


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on March 13, 2024.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Galt Museum's Mel Mpofu, Chris Yauck Photography's Meghan Villiger, SAAG's Su Ying Strang and AACL's Jana MacKenzie prepare to speak during a Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday at the Galt Museum.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

The Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce has brought back the State of the Industry Arts and Culture panel discussion about the importance of keeping arts and culture thriving and accessible in our community.

Panelists from three non-profit organization and one from the for-profit sector, spoke about their SWOT analysis that covers Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats on Tuesday at the Galt Museum.

The first speaker, Director of operations for the Galt Museum and Archives, Mel Mpofu highlighted the beauty of the building and its surrounding area, multiple programming they are able to offer to members of the community along with being able to keep the record and memories of Lethbridge in the archives section.

When it came to opportunities, Mpofu highlighted the opportunity for collaboration.

“We have opportunities to collaborate with other organizations around the city, to avoid duplication of work, and that we’re not competing for attendance,” said Mpofu.

Among the weaknesses Mpofu stated was the lack of awareness about what the museum, SAAG and Allied Arts Council have to offer.

“Another weakness is apathy from diverse community groups as they may not see themselves represented within the programming and therefore will feel excluded,” said Mpofu.

Executive director of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Su Ying Strang, highlighted a mental wellness benefits study that shows exposure to the arts has a positive impact on mental health.

“A recent University of Calgary article cited arts ability to manage and reduce cortisol levels, encourage mindfulness and activate different parts of the brain,” said Strang.

She added another article from Harvard University highlights the importance of arts and creative activities for depression, anxiety, cancer, dementia and other progressive neurological diseases.

“There’s a ton of research out there, there’s a ton of programming out there specifically talking about in a time where resources are limited, arts and culture is critical to our well-being,” said Strang.

She said arts and culture are integral for storytelling, sense of belong belonging and personal connections with one another. Strang added SAAG’s admissions fees are a strength as well.

“Compared to many recreational activities, it takes all types, but in a time where we are wallet straps are tight, we look at the admission to some place, like the Galt if you buy a membership it’s free, or the same with the gallery, that access versus a sports event, they are different experiences, they are both very important, but in times when financial constrains are high that value is huge,” said Strang.

 She added that perhaps could also be a weakness, because there is the potential they are undervaluing themselves and need to pay attention to that within the sector.

In regards to opportunities, Strang shared some good news with her fellow panelists and audience members.

“Two weeks ago, reinvestment from our provincial funder, the Alberta Foundation For The Arts, received their first increase since 2010. In 2024-2025 they’ll receive an 18 per cent increase from last year and for a total operating budget of $30.1 million,” said Strang.

 She explained this amount is still under 2010 numbers.

 “While it’s not quite about the $34.8 million that we saw back in 2009-2010 it’s a positive step in the right direction for our province appropriately investing in arts and culture,” said Strang.

Executive Director of the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge, Jana MacKenzie, spoke about the importance of discussing the state of the industry and why its important to keep it thriving and accessible.

“Not only do the arts provide personal enjoyment but continue to highlight the impact of creative activities, promoting learning and bringing people together, supporting the arts about creating opportunities for both high level professional artists and amateurs, or dabblers or whatever you’d like to call yourself,” said MacKenzie.

She said the impact of art is often with the focus on the economic impact which is evidenced in many assessments and surveys, but the impact of the arts on health and wellbeing is often not considered to the extent that it should be.

“We must recognize what the arts do for community and in turn recognize the importance of artists in our community,” said MacKenzie.

 She said that is one of the strengths as a city, because Lethbridge is a very creative community and an extensive arts community. And the list of talent is extensive.

 MacKenzie added there would be even more talent in the city if not for a lack of adequate facilities.

 “There’s two parts to that weakness, the lack of a performing arts centre, which continues to hold a priority spot for arts facility needs in our community. It has been advocated for decades and is an important part of the City of Lethbridge recreation culture master plan,” said MacKenzie.

 She said a performing arts centre would provide space for local groups, but also touring theatre productions.

 “Lethbridge is skipped by many touring productions because we can’t accommodate with the stage that we have and the number of seats that are available,” said MacKenzie.

 She said within that lack of adequate facility, there is confusion about the community understanding of what a performing arts centre is.

 “In that community confusion we have to ask the question and answer of what the Yates is and what the Yates is not,” said MacKenzie.

 She said many consider the Yates an auditorium because it lacks major features that a performance centre would have, issues with the stage and limited seating.

 “Many people refer to the Enmax Centre, and sure it has a lot more seats but it’s not a performing arts centre, it is an arena,” said MacKenzie.

 She said people are still confused about what Casa is after a decade, which is a creative space with many rooms filled with people creating things.

 “The second part of the lack of adequate facilities, in particular to the performing arts is a lack storage space, groups have different facility needs, they require dedicated longer-term space,” said MacKenzie.

 She said at Casa they are able to accommodate those needs but only for a short period of time, until the room their equipment is in needs to be used.

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