Time and space for arts in Waterloo Region

By Catherine Mittelholtz on Jun 13, 2019 4 min read

We’ve written many times about why Zeitspace loves to support arts & culture in the region. From our sponsorship of Open Ears Festival and Hold the Line, we’re big fans of the intersection of innovative festivals with thought-provoking musical components. But what’s the point? What do we — or anyone — get out of supporting or participating in the arts?

Arts creates jobs and strengthens skills

With a GDP of $27.5 billion, Ontario’s arts and culture section is larger than our utilities, agriculture, and resource extraction industries, contributing to over 280,000 jobs across the province. These economic opportunities created by culture will become more important as we move through the shift from the traditional industry, physical labour economy to a knowledge and creativity-based economy. Cultivating the skills to embrace this transition starts early, with children exposed to arts in elementary school, particularly those from low-income families, being three times more likely to proceed to a post-secondary degree. Learning opportunities extend outside the classroom as well. Kitchener Public Library offers a musical instrument lending program to all card-holding patrons, while THEMUSEUM brings in diverse and innovative exhibitions that are educational for all ages.

Arts drives tourism

Culture tourists stay longer and spend more money than the typical tourist. Tourism also has the effect of supporting other industries such as lodging, food, and retail. The increased spending by tourists comes two-fold: first, by tourists themselves spending on activities as well as basic needs, and second as businesses and individuals take the money they earned and inject it back into the local economy. Drayton Entertainment, with theatres dotted through many local towns, has an estimated impact of $35 million per year through visitor spending. Our small towns pack a huge punch for their size when it comes to embracing local history to entice tourism. The Quilt and Fibre Art Festival, an annual effort of thousands of volunteers, is the largest of its kind in Canada, drawing most of its visitors from outside of the Region from places ranging to Australia, Japan, and South Africa. The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival brings in a similarly diverse crowd, attracting over 70,000 people to a town of just 12,000 for the one-day event.

Arts creates vibrant communities

Culture activities such as festivals bring communities together. Access to Arts and Culture was in the top 4 most appealing aspects of Waterloo Region in the most recent Vital Signs Report. The summer months in KW are full of family-oriented neighbourhood activities, from grassroots community porch parties on Hohner Ave to the Duke St Music Fest in Midtown. Waterloo Region has a vibrant cultural scene that encompasses our Mennonite and German heritage while exploring our future as a multicultural city with a world music festival. Many of these festivals are free or make a point in having free events, allowing people of all backgrounds and economic levels to enjoy. Travelling to broaden experiences is expensive and out of reach for many. But this summer residents can ride the ION to experience Kultrún World Music Festival in Victoria Park, or take in IMPACT Theatre Festival with local and international performers addressing a variety of socially relevant topics. Because so many of these festivals are free, and artists have to pay their rent and taxes like the rest of us, organizations need our support in order to keep running and fill in the gaps where government and organizational grants fall short. Arts & culture workers and artists in the Region have an average income less than that of the general labour force. Seeking out and supporting cultural initiatives lifts people up on all levels. Not everyone can provide financial support, but attendance at these events, or donation of time as a volunteer, is vital to ensure they not just survive, but thrive.

Arts are all around us

Maybe we’re not going to see Drake perform at the Aud any time soon (is he still cool?). But we’re perfectly happy to go there to watch a Rangers game or indulge in fibre arts at the KW Knitter’s Guild Fair. Waterloo Region’s arts and culture scene is diverse with something for everyone and is deserving of our love and support to help it flourish. Get out and see/hear/experience it for yourself and discover why.

Catherine Mittelholtz

Written by Catherine Mittelholtz

Catherine Mittelholtz is a software engineer at Zeitspace.