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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Cities Summit in Kansas City

I was honoured to be asked to participate recently in a conference in Kansas City, Missouri, The New American City, produced by the Vancouver outfit CityAge.  The two-day conference billed itself as an opportunity “to discuss how to make our cities engines of innovation and job creation.”  The Mayor of Kansas City, Sly James, promised “national and international dialogue on building – and rebuilding – our cities for the 21st Century”.

 The two days were packed with panel discussions on a broad range of topics, including infrastructure, urban services and governance, technology’s role in re-shaping the 21st Century city, transportation, and more. I am pleased that there was a session entitled “Culture Cities:  A Catalyst for a Resilient Community and Economy,” in which I participated. I was joined by a the director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (KC), a representative of the Mayor of Chattanooga, and a principal consultant of Lord Cultural Resources (Chicago).  The thrust of our session was why it is important for major cultural institutions to do a better job of reflecting all segments of their communities, how that can result in more vibrant culture throughout the community – including resilient organizations of all sizes – and how this can be accomplished.

These were big topics with no easy “sound bite” answers.  We all contributed examples of our work that we felt were moving our organizations and communities in the right direction.  I talked especially about Vancouver Opera’s First Nations-inspired Magic Flute and our opera for young people, Naomi’s Road, which told the story of a Japanese Canadian family during the World War II Internment.  I made the point that regional organizations will thrive if they are able to “localize” their work and demonstrate its relevancy to our contemporary, regional audience.

In addition to our session on culture and the arts, each day was opened with a musical performance:  day one was the jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson and day two was a Mozart concert performed by members of the Kansas City Symphony.

I was very pleased to see the reaction from the 500+ attendees both to the panel on culture and the musical presentations; there seemed to be universal recognition that culture has a large role in defining a city, and must take its rightful place alongside the other elements of city- (and I would add province-) building.

James W. Wright
General Director (on sabbatical)

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