The news that Summerland now has an official Cultural Plan has been well publicized.
A dozen volunteers, two council members and one city staff member, made up the task force who put this plan together. They were allotted $15,000 and came in well under budget, spending less than $8,000. After 18 months, with close to 40 meetings and thousands of volunteer hours, talking to people and compiling the information gleaned, the end result is a high quality, professional looking booklet which contains the plan.
Some might wonder how this group managed to accomplish what they did and what the experience was like for them.
The members of the task force, who were willing to share their thoughts, felt that the strength of the group was in their diversity.
“There were producers of art, consumers of art and then there were folks like me who didn’t really have any background in the arts, so it was a nice mix,” said Dan Dinsmore.
Because of their various interests and perspectives, it gave this group a much broader vision of what culture actually was.
“We decided very early that culture was a very broad term and that we wouldn’t define it when we started talking to people,” Betty-Ann Zenis said.
Explaining further, John Bubb said, “When we asked people about culture, they would say ‘what do you mean by culture?’ and we would say, ‘you tell us.’ We got everything! A lot of people see recreation as a cultural activity if they are into sports…other people said culture was painters and potters and actors.”
The task force talked to people in the streets as well as to focus groups. They used questionnaires and poster boards, all in an attempt to get the citizens of Summerland involved.
“I really saw our job as being just a conduit from the community itself,” said Susan Gibbs, who was very pleased to be invited to be on the task force. It helped to validate her own feelings to hear that having a vibrant Arts Centre was definitely something that other people in the community also wanted.
The group felt they had been able to find the core values that the community held in common.
“The detailed plan may change, but those values will remain relatively constant,” said Bubb.
When it comes to future development in Summerland, the city now has a framework to use, knowing what its citizens think and want.
“These values are now a lens that they can use to look through,” explained Dinsmore.
Ellie Van Nie, who has a background in business, is a firm believer that culture makes a very vibrant community.
From an economic standpoint, she said that Summerland just needs to build on what it already has and pull it all together better.
The task force did not always agree and admit there were some very “tense moments” when emotions ran high.
Although they described the process as “overwhelming,” “exhausting,” and a “lot of hard work,” the group felt proud and satisfied with the end product.
“The input we got from the community was of quality and in turn we wanted to validate the community’s input by doing a classy well-done presentation,” said Gibbs. “We appreciated the fact that they did communicate with us and we wanted to let them know there was value in that.”
“One of the big differences this time is that the council actually adopted the plan as municipal policy and that’s not been done before,” explained Xenis.
There is also a side benefit to having gathered 2300 comments from the community.
“There is a huge data base of all the comments we received, if anyone wants to mine that for business opportunities,” said Bubb.
One of the recommendations called for in the plan is for a cultural committee to be formed, that will monitor and assess the plan in the future. Herein lays another opportunity for those who may be excited about the potential offered by this plan.
Clearly these volunteers, who served on the task force, were motivated by their passion for the arts and for Summerland and believed in the value of the process.
A copy of the Cultural Plan may be viewed online or at the Summerland library.