In the past decade, Oshawa’s Culture Counts Strategic Plan (CCSP) has been the cornerstone for city’s arts and cultural development.
As it approaches its tenth anniversary in 2023, the city’s Arts, Culture and Heritage department looks to enhance the strategic plan and set new objectives for where they want to go.
Coinciding with Oshawa’s centennial in 2024, the city is already preparing a series of festivals, events, and projects inspired by the CCSP. Launched in 2013, Culture Counts aimed to foster a dynamic arts and culture scene in Oshawa, enhancing both livability and economic growth.
Susan Kordalewski, the supervisor of the Cultural Development and Programs department, says in a survey of 18 mid-sized Ontario cities, all municipalities reported, “using cultural and recreation amenities as a tool for revitalization.” Initially developed with assistance from a consulting firm and community input, the plan was adopted by the city council in 2014.
Community involvement has been integral to the plan, with focus groups, surveys, and visioning sessions shaping its direction. The plan emphasizes diversity, accessibility, and community engagement as its core principles.
According to Kordalewski, in the first year after being approved, Culture Counts saw the creation of a cultural staff position, an interdepartmental team, and the Community Leadership Council (CLC), a volunteer group that serves as a resource, guiding the city in the direction it should take with activities and programs.
Many of the volunteers on the CLC are from post-secondary institutions such as Durham College, local businesses, and cultural organizations based in Oshawa.
After the CLC was established in 2015, Kordalewski said the city looked into another approach to further the Culture Counts goals. To bolster the category of Building a Strong, Vital, and Connected Arts, Culture, and Heritage in the plan, the city of Oshawa began the Culture Counts Awards in 2017, with the first ever awards taking place in 2018.
Held to honour the work of artists in Oshawa, the awards recognize artistic excellence in three categories: Professional Artist, Innovation and Creation Champion, and Emerging Artist.
The department has made efforts to assist emerging artists unfamiliar with the application process, ensuring broader participation, according to Kordalewski.
Diana Lawryshyn, the recent Emerging Artist award winner, credits the award for increasing her visibility within the city. “It opened up a door and I’ve had a lot of people from the city of Oshawa reaching out to me to support their initiatives,” she said.
Nominated anonymously, Lawryshyn suspects it was the Ukrainian community in Oshawa that recommended her. She notes that the awards are promoted across various communities, ensuring “a full diversity of perspectives and voices are represented.”
To keep residents informed, the city annually releases updates on its cultural services through cards and brochures.
Looking ahead, Kordalewski notes that many long-term goals of Culture Counts will be reviewed and redeveloped in 2025.
The centennial celebrations in 2024 will be overseen by the Community Centennial Committee, with events aligning with the strategic plan’s objectives.
Kordalewski says the Cultural Development and Programs department has planned various activities, environmental projects, and events, as well as art and sculptures installations to go up in downtown Oshawa, with a call to artists being launched next year.
Among the many projects set for next year, the department also wants to commission an Indigenous artist or author to create a public artwork of the Ed Broadbent Waterfront Park.
In addition, Kordalewski says an Indigenous advisory circle is being organized to help guide new projects and events with the city also looking into events that will centre Indigenous arts and culture.
According to Kordalewski, national holidays like Culture Day have been leveraged to support the strategic plan, with events like the Peony Painting Workshop and artist talks aligning with both the strategic plan and Culture Days.
With two major anniversaries approaching and numerous planned activities, Kordalewski anticipates these efforts will make Oshawa an even more “interesting and engaging for residents.”