Saturday, 5 July 2014

Creating Unique Identifiers in Small Cities: The Value of Creativity

     Thunder Bay, more than many other small cities in Canada is uniquely interesting, a worthwhile home for those who live here, and identifiable from other cities due to history, way of life, and geography. Those used to the variety of choices offered in Toronto may not agree, but we have the benefit of getting to places without the traffic and huge swaths of suburbs to drive through with the added exorbitant cost of real estate that are a problem in big cities. And although Walmart, McDonalds, Tim Hortons, and Shoppers are certainly convenient in any city, they don’t add much to a city’s culture. Neither does commercialized national or American media, whether radio, TV, movies, etc. or international fashion or the fads generated by pop-stars or Greenwich Village
     Of course it seems impossible for a smaller community to compete with the onslaught of these outside influences in order to develop a unique culture. Certainly mass culture is fun, but that doesn’t mean we have to look, act, think, dress or smell like everyone else in North America. It is possible for us to be unique, unique to our own way of doing things and unique to what we wish to celebrate in our city and surrounding area.
     This is where artists can contribute dramatically to our community, not only by celebrating those aspects of our culture that we already have, but also by adding to it.
     Artists of all stripes, including writers, craftspeople and musicians, are like comedians who make us laugh because they see the world from a sideways perspective. They can be critical, but they also add dramatically to the way we view ourselves and provide something new.
     Artists do much more. They can make us fall in love with new ideas and unique visions. This includes some false starts, like a couple sculptures at Prince Arthur’s Landing and unique road designs, including strangely placed bicycle lanes, but it also includes great architectural works, inspiring murals and new park developments. There will be no real agreement as to what is truly beneficial, but it’s better than living in a static community where everyone is afraid of change.
     “Progress” and even the word “art” has negative connotations for a lot of people. But if Thunder Bay wants to keep its young people here, if it wants to survive, we need to create our own fun world in which to live. It’s good for our brains, morale, and diversifies the economy.
     Various reports have been laid on local politicians and business people’s desks which make great claims for the benefits of art and how economically valuable it is for us to create what can be summed up as “unique identifiers,” meaning what is unique to us, informed by worldly experiences and transformed into something we can experience locally without the expense of travelling.
     Local artists as much as local farmers and business people can create pride in what is necessary for us to be happy, and necessary to draw people to the community, whether as immigrants or visitors. When you can smell pride, like a Country Market pie, you feel the benefits.
     It’s okay to be proud of being simple and not extravagant. Americans, from a Canadian perspective can be so full of pride they need a special kind of deodorant. There’s nothing wrong with our interest in our wanting the simple life, but only in small doses, because if we relish our simplicity too much it will make us lazy, ignorant and boring. We need pride in Thunder Bay, but not the false pride where we love what is ugly over what people have worked hard to make beautiful, or to stop people from trying something different.
      We need memory builders, interesting life experiences that we can collect as if we were travelling elsewhere. When we travel we talk about our food experiences, the entertainment we’ve experienced and the objects and places unique to the location that make for an adventure. We have to find and develop our own character as a city, either by reaching into our past, celebrating unique individuals such as philanthropists, brave firemen, inventors, famous hockey players, good politicians, good business people, teachers, artists, etc.

     Some locals have the opinion that too much money is being spent on the arts, that money should go to repaving roads and suchlike, but Thunder Bay spent thirty years doing little to diversify its economy, relying primarily on a resource based industry. Investing in the arts and beautification is actually much more important as an economic generator than even local artists realize. And it’s fun.

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