HUNTSVILLE – A group of university students has given Huntsville’s cultural strategy an impressive passing grade.
The five senior University of Waterloo students completed an in-depth analysis of the strategy as part of their fourth-year principles of recreation planning coursework. The group made recommendations to strengthen the strategy, but overall seemed impressed.
“It is clear that the town has been very successful in planning, executing, and achieving the recommendations to date. As it stands, over half of the recommendations set have been accomplished in less than a year,” stated the students in their report. “Therefore, this assessment is of the opinion that the degree of success for the cultural strategy is an eight out of a possible 10.”
The strategy’s purpose is to “harness the potential of Huntsville’s arts, culture, and heritage sector in the service of Huntsville’s economic and social development, in alignment with the town’s objectives for sustainability,” according to the strategy.
It includes 27 recommendations ranging from hosting periodic summits to discuss the state of arts, culture and heritage activities in Huntsville to conducting a feasibility study of a new library combined with a public art gallery.
The plan is an extension of the Unity Plan, the town’s sustainability document. Council adopted it in February 2011. It was the first of its kind in Huntsville’s history.
Teri Souter, manager of arts, culture and heritage for the town, said the students’ offer to critique the plan came out of the blue.
One of the students is from Huntsville and another from Bracebridge, though the group was based in Waterloo, Ont.
Souter noted that the students were not only aware that Huntsville has a cultural strategy, but also that they wanted to use a current, local document for their coursework.
“It was a win-win situation,” she said. “We get the expertise of those young, critical minds and the input of that demographic into what we’re doing.”
The students stated in their report that they chose Huntsville’s strategy for its importance to the town and its successful implementation so far.
“The town council determined a cultural strategy was required after taking notice of
Huntsville’s wealth of arts, culture, and heritage organizations, places, and people,” stated the students’ report. “The acceptance of the cultural strategy gives the Town of Huntsville a strategic direction that ensures a strong unified vision for the future of culture in the area.”
Eleven of the strategy’s 27 recommendations have been implemented so far and no money has been spent in the process.
“The Town of Huntsville has succeeded in becoming a cultural leader in the region of Muskoka through (its) renewed focus on the integration of arts, culture and heritage into the townís overall vision,î stated the students.
Despite the students’ glowing remarks, they had some criticisms, too.
The students recommended the town add cultural recommendations to its Community Master Plan in future instead of having a separate cultural strategy.
They also recommended more collaboration with different organizations and groups, definitive timelines for long-term projects, concrete cultural program standards, a focus on arts, culture and heritage program development and an inventory of the professional and commercial arts, culture and heritage sector, among others.
The report suggested that many of these recommendations could be included in the next cultural strategy.
Souter said it remains to be seen whether the town will implement the recommendations within the report.
“It’s one piece of a lot of bits of information that we are still gathering and accessing,” she said.
She noted that the strategy has led to an arts, culture and heritage economic impact study as well as a cultural tourism strategy, among others, which, like the students’ report, will have to be evaluated before more steps can be taken.
“It’s kind of like providing the raw materials for us to weave our own blanket,” she said.
Souter said a second cultural strategy has not been discussed at the council table.
“When we’ve got some really good traction on what we need to do, we would prefer to put money into programs rather than strategies,” she said.
However, the existing strategy has not yet completed its four-year timeline.