BY ALISON GALLANT
“Policy, vision and action.” That is what it would take to rename Sydney “the Creative City”, according to Cape Breton University’s Keith Brown. However, Cape Breton’s Creative Economy is already growing – fast!
There’s a general theme highlighting this conference: collaboration. Collaboration between artists and dancers and musicians, and the pairing of people with seemingly unlinked skill sets such as engineers and artisans. The Centre is opening a forum of communication on how to start this conversation of collaboration to strengthen the community.
Day 1 of the Conference kicked off at the CBCCD, with creative-types, arts supporters, and retail owners gathered in an upbeat, positive show of support for driving the creative sector forward in Cape Breton. The morning of Day 2 featured a speech by the inspirational Bill Strickland, who spoke about his experiences, work, and his story. Centering his success on the motto “creating beautiful environments creates beautiful people”, Strickland spoke to why creative types have such a huge social role to play, not only in economic development, but also in decreasing school dropout rates and creating beautiful learning opportunities which are freely accessible to students of lower income bracket families.
Doug Milburn of Protocase emphasized the difference between creativity, invention and innovation and the importance of leaning on innovation to drive creative economy. He states that “we are a private sector city”, so we simply can’t rely on our Province’s capital city taxes and funding to promote growth. He believes that there is a need for creativity and innovation to make Cape Breton a sustainable community for people to live and grow.
On the topic of investing and funding the local culture, Joella Foulds, Executive Director of Celtic Colours International Festival states, “You never can tell with culture how a small investment can have a huge effect.”
It is estimated that Celtic Colours generated $8.1 million in expenditures last year, ranging from increased spending at gas stations to the purchase of arts and crafts. Of that, approximately $150,000 was paid to local artists and $100,000 of revenues went straight back into events hosted by community groups.
Don Beamish of Larchwood spoke on a panel during Day 2. He bought Levi’s flooring store in Margaree, and started with flooring before switching to elegant, quality-made cutting boards. He can vouch for CBCCD’s willingness to assist crafts people in marketing and funding. CBCCD funded his trips to wholesale trade shows in Montreal, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas, before Larchwood was recommended forward for funding through Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation.
In 2011, Larchwood saw a 52% growth in sales and have recently had their first order from Saks Fifth Avenue. Beamish also recognizes the importance of youth retention. He hires many younger people, who may have otherwise moved out west, and trains them in woodworking.
Milburn reminds us to “be careful what you wish for; you may get it” in reference to the volume of success he feels his business has accomplished due to an emphasis on innovation. He believes that if you want to create, then you should create, and that can be a solitary activity, but if you want to contribute your creativity to the economy, that is innovation, and, in that, communication is key.