How would you support the arts on City Council?

Guelph Arts Council has championed the arts in Guelph since 1975. We believe in the intrinsic value of artists and the arts, and their ability to inspire positive transformation for individuals and communities. At GAC we know that our many members and friends feel the same way, so we’ve polled mayoral and councillor candidates for municipal election to find out how, if elected, they will support the arts on City Council.

The following candidates responded immediately to our question, but we will continue to update this article online as additional responses are received. For a complete list of candidates, visit Please check back for updates, and don’t forget to vote on October 22!

Charlene Downey, Ward 1

Once upon a time ago I realized that one did not have to be a fine artist in order to be an artist, the path to creativity is as wide as the ocean is deep.  

I am an award winning artisan, Noggins to those of you who may not know.

I support the arts by making the majority of my “new” purchases from local artisans.

I support the arts by organizing events for local artisans.

I support the arts by helping new artisans make connections.

I will continue to support the arts by being an active member of the community itself.

I am excited to offer my continuing support on a larger scale when elected.

I will support the arts as art defies borders, builds bridges, provides hope and colours dreams.

Barbara Mann, Ward 1

Having grown up in Guelph, I have had the pleasure of helping get many cultural initiatives off the ground. This includes being the first office volunteer for the Hillside Festival, and a Board Member and Volunteer Coordinator for the Guelph Jazz Festival in its second year. I also volunteered for many of the early years of the Eden Mills Writers Festival. I am still a volunteer with one of these festivals, the others a patron. I have also been a guide for Doors Open, made a clay tile for the Enabling Garden, participated in many a Musagetes focus group and event. As a Co-coordinator of Jane’s Walk Guelph, we have always ensured that Jane’s Walks have included walks that share about the arts and culture of Guelph. These have included but are not limited to dance, spoken word, the Public Art of Downtown, music, the guitar (and stories behind the wood it is made from) made by Doug Larson and graffiti. I love going to see local artists work whether at Art on the Street, in their studio, hanging in a local restaurant or gallery, and I own a variety of pieces of art.

I believe that the arts and culture of a city are critical to a vibrant quality of life, and the health of a community. It is this quality of life that attracts industry and investment to an area because, these are places where people want to live and work. So, if I were to be elected to Council, I would  

  • continue to support all of the initiatives already offered by the City of Guelph: from grants to generators; water trucks; artist in residence, partnerships with groups such as the Art Council and beautiful spaces like Market Square
  • encourage an increase to the amounts available for grants and split the Wellbeing Grant, to include an Arts and Culture Grant
  • advocate for an artist hub and incubator space (too long overdue) and, as was done with the Guelph Youth Music Centre, use a building already owned by the City of Guelph to create this space
  • encourage the Chamber of Commerce, Innovation Guelph, Economic development Guelph, and Tourism Guelph to work with and support the Guelph Black Heritage Society in their endeavor to make Heritage Hall an accessible community space for arts, culture and history (like 918 Bathurst, TO) and, later for those groups to do the same with the above mentioned artist hub and incubator space
  • encourage the same groups to entice a for profit landlord or developer, to create an art centre like 401 Richmond, TO which has a gallery, studio space, restaurant and garden – a tourist destination
  • continue to provide funding for the City of Guelph to hire artists to create public art, or performances
  • present a motion for an Arts and Culture Master Plan that will build on Guelph’s current cultural resources, vibrant community and collaborative community partnerships. It should be the guiding document that continues to elevate Guelph as a destination for creativity, innovation, and excellence in the arts. A master plan that would also highlight the challenges faced by members of the arts and culture community in Guelph. And, provide solutions to these challenges.

[email protected]                          (226) 979-7197                      

James Gordon, Ward 2

As someone who has a career in the cultural sector as an artist, it’s been a top priority for me as a councillor to promote the arts in our city, which has an international reputation for its many creators. While we are home to a large number of musicians, visual artists and dancers we always seem to be underserviced with welcoming venues, studio space, resources and other support. These hard-working people put us on the map as a cultural destination. We owe them the support they need to continue to represent us. As you know, every dollar invested in the arts brings in at least two back into the community. As the founding artistic director of the Hillside festival I witnessed the tremendous benefit to the well-being of our community that events like that can provide.

So at the municipal level, what can we do?

Some cities require that developers provide one percent of their development charges towards public art. I’d love to emulate this here. As a library board member I’ve been nudging the proposal for our new main library towards offering performance, workshop and studio space. I have also long advocated for a ‘community arts centre’ perhaps in the old Delhi Rec Centre or the Drill Hall, both owned by the city, that could offer space and support. I would also like to see a ‘local’ subsidy for rental space in the River Run Centre. The cost is prohibitive for emerging artists. We are blessed with many successful festivals… we could use one more in my view focusing on local talent exclusively.

We have come a long way, but we still need as a society to value our artists more. A city-supported initiative coupled with a web-based data site could encourage citizens to attend events and purchase their work. Toronto has some good examples of affordable live/work co-operative housing projects. Guelph could use this as our housing costs skyrocket. We were once a destination for artists because of our affordability. As this erodes we need to find tools for more support.

To conclude I’d say that I plan, if re-elected, to be the ‘designated artist spokesperson’ on council. (yes, it’s a self-appointed role 🙂  I’ll be continuing to press council into understanding how much of an economic driver the arts can be, and how our reputation is drawing businesses offering good jobs and new residents who recognize the enhanced quality of life they find in coming to a city with so much to offer in the artistic realm.

We also need as a city to support the Guelph Arts Council more. They do amazing work!

Mary Thring, Ward 2

When I was a student at the Ontario College of Art, our instructors (all of whom were practicing professionals) regularly reminded us that our choice of developing as creative people would likely entail financial sacrifice: i.e. if you’re in this for the money, its likely not for you.  I now make a living as a writer which is certainly not the most lucrative path I could have chosen.  So, I know from artists and the arts.

Guelph has a lively arts scene, for which we should all be grateful.  At the same time, I know a number of creative people who have left the city because of the cost of housing.  As Councillor for Ward 2, I would do my best to ensure affordability and that the city has a broad range of housing options – including legal and safe live-work spaces.  That, and protecting and enhancing our green spaces (for the restorative and inspirational effects of nature) can help ensure that Guelph can continue to welcome and nurture the vital creative souls among us.

Indu Arora, Ward 4

Guelph has a vibrant arts community and I believe more artists need to be supported by the community.  I am in favour of arts promotion through various initiatives such as the artist in residence, Art on the Street and Doors Open Guelph.    As the mother of a budding artist, I see the importance of promoting and encouraging our younger generation in their artistic pursuits.  I will continue to promote Little Maker events and similar events so the younger generation can create art, display their art and sell their art as well.  One additional item I would like to encourage is more art in our parks.   The park Margaret Greene in Ward 4 is a very large park and it would be great to have some public art in our larger parks.  This would encourage more artists to come forth and have their art displayed in our parks as well.

Mike Salisbury, Ward 4

I moved to Guelph in the  early 90’s  because of its unique culture, and the sense of community. I often find that when people approach me as a City Councillor to discuss economic development, they speak about the importance of low taxes and economic incentives to attract new businesses. These issues are certainly important, however I believe the role of cultural economics; trails, parks, the arts scene, local activism, festivals, good architecture and civic design… are vital in attracting people, businesses, families and employers in the new economy.

As an artist member of the Guelph Arts Council I would show my support by continuing to pay my dues.

Cathy Downer, Ward 5

I grew up steeped in the appreciation of the arts!  I come from a family with members that were artists, professionally and as passionate hobbyists. I married a musician. I love attending local festivals, art shows and live music events. I continue to volunteer at the Guelph Youth Music Centre and the annual Doors Open Guelph. 

Arts, culture and heritage are key to the City’s success as a vibrant and progressive community that is able to attract new residents and businesses. It is also important to our social wellbeing. Our beautiful, historic Downtown is a great backdrop to the many festivals and cultural events that bring our community together and attracts tourists from close by and far away.

I don’t believe the importance of Arts and Culture is fully recognized by many living here and is somewhat taken for granted. As vibrant and diverse as our arts community is, there are many challenges  – space, funding, marketing resources. We have so much more potential. 

I will continue to support the arts and artists in our community though programs like the Public Art and Artist in Residence. We need to ensure these are programs that are adequately funded. Also, I support the pursuit of partnerships and collaborations. The recent RTO4 Destination Guelph initiative was a great example of working together to identify our tourism opportunities/ challenges, where to focus resources  and how to move forward collaboratively with some great ideas. I had the pleasure of being a steering committee member of Destination Guelph. 

The Recreation, Parks and Culture Strategic Master Plan is due to be updated in 2019. I believe that Arts and Culture should be separated out of this review. We should have a stand alone Arts and Culture Master Strategic Plan. This would provide for a specific focus and prominence of the arts in our community.   It also would ensure the recognition of the economic and social importance of arts and culture to the wellbeing of our City. 

Alex Green, Ward 5

I’ve always been a big supporter of the arts in Guelph, and whether I’m elected or not, I’ll continue to support them in the best way I know how: By attending events and encouraging everyone I know to attend as well. Of course, that becomes a lot easier with access to the higher platform enjoyed by a city councillor. I will absolutely just promote the heck out of any arts event that comes to my attention, and I’ll encourage the city to make use of its social media platforms to do the same. A little bit of free PR can go a long way.

Aside from that, there are simple things like maintaining adequate grant funding, and taking a look at the permitting process to see if there’s a way to make things faster and simpler for artistic events that require use of city spaces or facilities. Supporting the arts is vital, but it doesn’t need to be a complicated process.

Leanne Piper, Ward 5

I have been, and will continue to be, a strong advocate for the arts. During my past terms of office, I supported the City’s first Public Art Policy, civic events, funding for the River Run Centre, Guelph Museums and Art Gallery of Guelph, and increased funding for community grants (which in turn support Guelph Jazz Festival, Dance Festival, Hillside Festival, and more). Protecting and promoting our cultural heritage through new policies and increased incentives for restoration, designation and preservation of architectural and landscape heritage are initiatives I plan to advocate for during the next term. A thriving arts sector is essential to our quality of life, economic prosperity and social justice. I believe that access to explore and enjoy music, theatre, film, dance and other forms of artistic expression should not be limited by socio-economic status, age or mobility and will support funding that makes the arts accessible to all.

Stacy Cooper, Ward 6

When I read that article the other day about how Wellington Brewery paired up with a Waterloo-based initiative for artists, and then with Guelph artists for a two-day exhibition, I thought that’s the way to inspire the next generation and to promote the arts in a fun and creative way. is the organizer.  Supporting initiatives like that are easy and cost-effective, and would make me want to take the tour with so many different artists to see.  I find that using the brew houses as well is a win-win for both.

Anshu Khurana, Ward 6

Art is an expression for sharing one’s belief, culture or a concept. It helps the viewer to adjust his/her lenses. When I think of Art, I think of life. I visualise the colors on a canvas depicting every moment of life. The strokes of the brush share the moment of expression and the colors express the emotion that brings that canvas to life. I will always promote Art Council because I am a story teller and I love to share and hear stories through different forms of art. It could be too loud or completely silent or it may be too wordy or just the expressions. That’s the way I see art because it has helped to shape my beliefs and my values. Sometimes it’s just imagination. It’s an amazing way to engage and strengthen the communities and share the culture. It is the best way of creative learning, mobilizing communities, celebrating differences and sharing diversities. I would support and promote Arts and will promote more community engagement when there is any art event.

Dominique O’Rourke, Ward 6

As the researcher and author of a  special report on Art & Belonging for Community Foundations of Canada, I understand the vital importance of a vibrant arts community – not only for its valuable economic impact but also its intrinsic contribution to the overall wellbeing. Whether people are actively engaged in creation or performance, attending events or even just aware of what’s going on, the presence of the arts build a sense of place and of pride. Municipalities have an important role to play in providing facilities where the arts can flourish, including libraries which often have an important role in Culture Days. If elected, I will support partnerships with the arts and the maintenance or enhancement of our current facilities. I will ensure the arts have a role in our economic development and tourism plans. I will also encourage arts programming to include people of all ages and backgrounds and believe the River Run Centre did a great job in including diversity in its programming this year.

You can find out more about me at

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