For those involved in the many disciplines of the Arts, we all love the arts in its various forms; visual, theatrical, literary, dance and musical arts. We form a community that exists with a hope for mutual support. And why wouldn’t we, we all see the importance of the arts. We all know that the ability to perceive the arts as more than simply objects is innately human. There are neurological and philosophical studies that have proven this beyond a doubt, and even UNESCO has articulated that the Arts are an expression of cultural freedom, which is a universal human right, so we even have both science and politics on our side when we say “the Arts are essential to our humanness”.
Nonetheless, the importance of the Arts in Community is often understated. I’ve heard on a number of occasions the argument that “the Arts create community, and community develops because of the Arts”, and this argument does us a disservice. It places an unrealistic expectation on the Arts to magically create a community simply by existing. Society is not an accident of the Arts. If we were to put a mural up on the side of the Royal Bank depicting a Nazi internment camp, we are not going develop into a community of oppressors of human rights. As a friend of mine said in his article about what the Arts are, the success of a society of a bygone era is usually judged by the diversity of their Arts, but that is because every society is consciously created. They are planned, and the Arts are an integral part of that plan.
James Graves, in his book "Cultural Democracy", explains to us exactly what Community is. “Any group of individuals who share something, anything, in common, and consider themselves to have some allegiance to each other as a result, forms a community.” The Arts are a Community in High River, as you no doubt agree. What about High River on the whole? What does every person who lives in High River have in common, and consider ourselves to have some allegiance to each other as a result?
The flood is no longer an appropriate answer, although it is still our best answer. “We are a community of flood survivors”. But not everyone in High River is. As people move in, move out, have kids, grow up, die, visit and depart, what will be their lasting impression of High River? After a while, it won’t be the flood nor will it be our resilient recovery, and then what will our community be?
I said earlier that the Arts are part of a plan to building a community. That’s because the Arts in a societal view serves a public purpose, and is the only discipline/industry that consistently does so. The Arts build social capital, the “stuff” of culture. Allow me to explain with musicking, because that is my chosen artistic discipline.
At one point in time we had an elitist view of what music was. It was an object, an artifact of historical or musical import. It was something to be enjoyed upon its own merits. It was even used as a tempering tool for society; one person in Saskatchewan explained that the purpose of boys bugle bands a century ago was to cure the boys of “slovenliness of speech”. To a certain extent, some of those views purvey. But music as an object doesn’t build social capital.
How we music builds social capital. Music is in fact an action, be it the creation of that artifact, the listening to it, the dancing to it, or the understanding of some intended message. Even more, some people music by distributing it, selling tickets at the door, or designing posters for events. What that actually means is that music is a verb, not a noun. It is not an object, but an action. We don’t make music. We music.
You can say the same of art. We don’t make art. We paint. We sculpt. We display. We art. You can say the same of theatre and dance. We don’t produce plays. We act. We design. We show. We move. We theate. We dance.
In each of these artistic verbs, we commune. We interact with one another as artists, with audiences, with the larger community. We share. We message. We politic and we express. We don’t always do it the same as one another, and that is good because it allows for communication between differing thoughts. It is through this communion with one another that culture lives, breathes, develops and thrives. This growth occurs through the Arts, so an area that has consistent support for artistic diversity can build social capital and become not just a place where people live, but become a community.
Consider that economically speaking, diversity and competition is good for a community. Consider that a community is also strong with people of different talents contributing to it. A community with the capacity for accumulating financial capital and human resources will be strong both in economy and talent. So too it is for social capital. As Graves says, “a society with a low capacity for accumulating social capital, one that stresses zero-sum games offering some members advantages at the expense of others, will be unstable and probably dangerous. Dynamic, progressive societies develop mechanisms to enhance the web of social capital.”
Communities are planned. The Arts are an integral part of that plan. If we are to consciously create communities, it must be about developing those mechanisms to enhance the web of social capital in High River. It cannot be simply about planning events. It must be about creating or enhancing systems and mechanisms that increase our capacity for accumulating social capital. It’s going to take more than artists to do that; business leaders, politicians, educators and other community leaders need to be in the conversation. They need to engage the entire community in it. That’s what the Our High River Community Café is going to be about on February 10, 2016.
If you want to be a part of it, come join us at the Wise Owl Café for Our High River’s Arts in Community event. Drop in sometime between 5 and 8 PM. Let’s find the sum of our specialties and come up with not just ideas, but solutions that we didn’t have before we walked in.
Let’s consciously create community through, with, and in the Arts.
But let's be honest, it's been in need of a defibrillator for quite some time now.
A week and a half ago, I went to a meeting that discussed the downtown High River of old, the opportunities that the flood presented, and the vision for its future. Most of the attendees were either downtown business folk, people who have been advising such as myself, or area planners and politicians. The conversation was frank.
First in the presentation, a slide that showed High River's downtown from decades passed. Even then it looked more alive than it has ever looked in my near-decade of living here.
Then a photo of 4th Avenue, which looked, as our mayor put it, like a truck lot. Angle parking all the way down the one-way street. Storefronts were not visible, nor were shoppers. Sidewalks were narrow enough that the event-planners rule of being able to accommodate two wheelchairs was barely accommodated, if it was at all.
This is what made downtown High River dead. People came into town, parked in front of the store they wanted to visit, walked in, walked out, and drove away. People were not encouraged to walk around downtown much unless they were a visitor coming to check out the murals, which are in desperate need of some resuscitation as well.
This is not what makes a community. Communities in the physical sense of the word are areas where people gather and commune, sharing the same space for similar reasons. In the case of downtown, those reasons should be to operate a business, to participate in events and functions, and to have a place to gather and socialize. In High River, that last point is missing not just in downtown, but in the entire community. It is for this reason that downtown High River is dying.
Drive through it now, and you'll see that it's dead. A select few businesses remain open. Frankly, the 50's style restaurant is likely doing relatively decent business right now because it is located within a stone's throw of the Disaster Recovery office.
Landlords and owners are wondering why they should feel any pressure to rebuild it right now? It didn't have a significantly large economic function before, it certainly wasn't the town's economic engine (mind you, if it was, then that is a pretty significant indicator that a reboot is required).
Well at that meeting I found out why. The current town council is applying a significant jolt of energy to get the heart of High River beating again.
The images and descriptions that followed, honestly, scared me. They discussed Phase 1, which included adjustments to Macleod Trail, 3rd and 4th Avenues. Parking in these areas will be reduced to a fraction of what existed before the flood and exists right now. Instead, sidewalks will be widened significantly, any parking that does exist will be parallel, and storefronts will be visible. Even the roadways will not be paved as they had been before, but will rather have a "walking path" feel to it. 4th Avenue will easily be converted from a road with just enough space for cars to drive through in both directions into a place for any form of community fair, such as the popular Show 'n' Shine. I was reminded of Stephen Avenue Mall in Calgary, but with a much more small-town atmosphere. This is a complete and total change from what High River looks like now. The magnitude of the change itself is scary.
But after thinking about it for a bit, I found myself being won over by the concept. Imagine a space in High River already built for outdoor community events that will help drive the economy because it is amongst the small businesses in town. Imagine that the businesses create their own small events because they have the latitude and real estate to do so both inside their building and on the street in front of it. Imagine a "High River Experience" bringing people off of Highway 2, and not just McDonald's or Tim Horton's.
I am not going to give away all the details. Honestly, townspeople should come out to the public information sessions and open houses to discuss it with the people planning it. However, there are a couple of things we should be careful of when it comes to this drastic change.
My first concern; we do not live in the Field of Dreams. Just because you build it doesn't mean people will come. There has to be a reason for people to visit. I'd like to say the "Mom and Pop Shops" will be the reason, but the truth is that it won't be. This is why, at the meeting, I shouldered up to the town's mayor, gestured at the artist's conception of the future 4th Avenue, and said "I see an Arts Facility complete with theatre, public art gallery and classrooms going right there!" (To my great delight, he said "I agree") People need to have a reason to come to downtown to check it out. If the design is done properly and the businesses are truly as on board as they suggest, then those things combined will keep people wanting to come back.
My second concern; public buy-in, especially when they realize they're going to have to walk a block or two to get to their favourite local shop. High River has lived in a state of under-exertion for a couple of decades at least, now. Thankfully, I share the mayor's viewpoint on this. When asked at the meeting about handicapped individuals, that concern was addressed and evidence that they had been considered and accommodated was in the presentation. When asked at the meeting about people who don't want to have to walk very far in the dead cold of February to get to a store they need to visit, mayor Craig Snodgrass made a comment that vaulted him near the top of my list of favoured politicians: "thicker coats and liquor". This tongue-in-cheek comment did not tell me that he would endorse more bars to move into downtown; it told me that High Riverites will no longer have the option of being idle. I don't think that this will be as difficult of a sell these days as it would have been a year ago, but there will be some people not pleased with this idea.
My final concern; parking. The one untied loose end discussed at the meeting was parking. Considering they are planning on reducing downtown's parking by a minimum of 50 spaces, this is a considerable loose end. Thankfully they are hoping to come upon some arrangement with the real estate historically owned by Canadian Pacific Railways. I'll buy into this arrangement, but really hope this loose end is tied up quickly.
So High River's downtown is dead. The Town Council is giving it a much needed jolt to get its heart beating again. We as High Riverites must encourage them not only to give it the jolt it needs, but to keep working to help it live, thrive, and grow. Council needs to deal with the issues of the Field of Dreams, public buy-in, and parking. Let's push Council to deal with these issues, and give them the high five they deserve for figuring out how to get the heart beating again.
I only know I'm a good man because my wife is incredible. Nobody as amazing as her would stick around with a guy like me unless she thought I was worth it. Therefore, I'm worth it.
Which leads me to introduce you to a wonderful lady who will be more in the spotlight in High River than ever before. While my amazing wife was giving birth to our second child (who is now 3 and a half years old), there was one nurse there who was the most incredible support for her throughout the labour. I was extremely humbled, as a father during childbirth should be. My wife took the process like a typical farm girl with all her strength, resolve, and work ethic. Very much "just get it done". And the nurse had such compassion and fed my wife such strength, it was as if she were family, encouraging her all the way. Both women made me realize how little a good man could possibly be without a good woman beside him.
That nurse's name is Lindsay Snodgrass. Wife to High River's new mayor, Craig Snodgrass.
That's how I know our town is going to be okay. Because behind every good man is the support of someone just as amazing (or in my case, someone even better).
Many people know I did not support Craig for Mayor. I was extremely concerned about someone with little experience taking the reigns of our town. Honestly, I'm still concerned about that, but I'm putting those concerns aside, because those concerns are for elections. The concerns we must deal with now are how a new council is going to help us recover and rebuild.
I know that Craig could be great for our town, if given the right support. And if it's one thing I've learned about High Riverites, they are strong and resolute, and can be the best support an individual can hope for. However, you certainly don't want to cross High Riverites, either.
Lindsay is a great woman, and with her I'm confident that Craig is a great guy. However, Craig needs to be a great Mayor. So he needs a great town council, town organizations, and townspeople to stand with him.
Town Council will have to shift from campaigning in opposition to campaigning as a unit. It will take work, but they can do it.
I'm so pleased to have a colleague of mine, Bruce Masterman on council. I'm confident that his passion for High River will mean that not one individual gets left behind. He is a genuinely kind and caring man, and has an amazing "big picture" view. I truly hope he brings the balance to council that it will need right now.
I was very impressed with Cathy Couey's platform, in the fact that she had one. Not only that, her platform had multiple issues covered. I know she's put some thought into a vision for the town. She will carry it forward without a doubt, but as we were able to find with previous councillor Betty Hiebert, a lone woman on the council has challenges ahead. There was no shortage of good, strong female candidates, yet only Couey got in. She's going to have to be even stronger, more informed, and ready to speak the language of the common person to truly help council out.
I honestly know very little about Peter Loran, except for the casual conversations I've had with him during the campaign. I'm truly hopeful that his personality matches his abilities as councillor, because if that is the case, he might just be the peacemaker. More importantly, however, is that the new council's first job will be to deal with the new budget, and this is where we need Loran most. Loran's experience in banking and investments will be crucial, but must be backed up with vision. I didn't hear much about his vision for High River, so if he is lacking in that department, let's hope he can put his investment experience into play using others' vision.
Dragan Brankovich has an eye for engineering, but he's going to need to bring more to the table than just his ability to "speak engineering". If he keeps his eyes on the flood, I'm afraid that little else will move forward. He has shown that he might actually have a vision for things like the arts, culture, heritage, and recreation, but it is vague at best. I'm concerned he will get tunnel vision and ignore the long-term needs of the community. Perhaps time will prove me wrong; it would be wonderful to be wrong in this case.
Don Moore has been a very pleasant man for me to work with, and I have enjoyed my interactions with him. He has always had a vision for the community, and that vision has always progressed and changed along with it. He is meticulous in his work, and council could use that attention to detail and experience. My only concern for him is how he will work with this new team. It is my hope that he is ready to be part of a collaborative effort to get this town moving forward, and I'm sure he'll do it.
There is an advantage, and yet a danger, to having Emile Blokland on council. The advantage is that all those promises the Province of Alberta gave the town will still be in the memory of the council. Snodgrass will have Blokland in his court to remind the Province what they promised, and so the whole council will be able to make good on their campaign promise to "hold their feet to the fire." However, having the old mayor in one of the policy-makers chairs might be enough to pause growth in our town. Potential business owners might see it as being regressive, not progressive. I would hope that's not the case, but only Blokland's actions will prove to them otherwise.
If Snodgrass is going to be a successful mayor, he needs the support of every person on council. This does not mean that every idea he presents needs to be accepted unilaterally. Rather, it means that council must work together, something that was lacking a bit last time around.
Every councillor must voice their ideas, and no idea should be ignored. Each idea must be considered on its own merits. Each councillor must work with the best points of each idea to achieve consensus. With consensus, we will truly see a council working together. Snodgrass, who will be our town's main salesperson, will be the face of that unified council, and the town, province, and country will see it.
If at any time a member of council feels as though their ideas were ignored or ridiculed, the unity of council will fail, the town will lose faith, and Snodgrass' support will be gone.
Council is supported by many others as well. The various boards in town such as the Recreation Board, the Sheppard Family Park Board, the Arts and Culture Board, the Library Board, the Heritage Board and more all need to be included in the process. If at any time these boards feel as though their ideas were ignored or ridiculed, their support of council will diminish, and that will filter up all the way to the mayor's chair. This also applies to the many other volunteer organizations such as Minor Hockey, Foothills AIM Society, the many service organizations and many more.
Sounds like a lot, right? That's what High River needs, though. High River needs everyone to pull together, to put their two cents in, to know their two cents are being considered, and only then can they trust that council is truly moving forward.
Then Snodgrass will have the support he needs to be mayor.
Lindsay is the woman behind the man. High River, let's be the town behind the mayor.
Congratulations, Craig! Let me know what I can do to be a support for you.
I can't do a wrap-up to the municipal election without mentioning the man who I chose to stand behind. Richard Murray, it was a pleasure to work with you on this. I'm obviously disappointed that you didn't get in, but I'm very pleased with what you accomplished. The Minister of Culture has seen a vision for Arts and Culture in High River. The Emergency Management Act will be reviewed, and I'm positive you will be a part of making it better and more effective. And I know the new (and experienced) faces on council have been influenced by your passion.
You may not have gotten in, but you made one heck of a difference. I know that I have learned a lot, and am a better man for it. Keep moving forward, sir!
We are now passed the cross-roads. It is now over two months since the flood, and less than two months before we have a new Town Council. Very soon, if you haven't already, you'll see the campaigns begin.
Look at what has happened. Basements have been stripped out. Tens of thousands of tonnes of our former lives have been taken to the dump. Infrastructure has been moved, changed, remodelled, and rebuilt. Yes indeed, lots has been done.
However, there are still multitudes who feel like they are being left behind. Landlords, renters, small and mid-sized businesses, and residents who have nothing left and limited coverage are still in limbo.
Yet out of the receding waters comes opportunity. In High River, a building stands empty where a library once stood. An incredible opportunity to rebuild the arts and culture in the town now sits in that empty shell. Schools in town are undergoing slight modifications to better use the space they have. Serious consideration to mitigation efforts is being given, and various roadblocks to getting those completed are being removed.
2 weeks after the flood I saw the "For Sale" signs pop up, and I was worried. Within the past two weeks, many of those "For Sale" signs have been replaced with "Sold" signs, and I am encouraged. My neighbours, two wonderful people I've had the pleasure of sharing a fence with, are moving on, but our new neighbours hale from Calgary, which reminds me that High River, even in it's most significant need, is still a place other people want to live.
Yes indeed, there is opportunity in them waters.
We need clear communication to understand how every action helps our town.
We need decisions to be informed and to fulfill a long-term vision. No more band-aid solutions with short term gains, long-term consequences.
We need to stop doing studies that are already done, and start moving forward.
We need to spend smart. Rather than tear out a road to fix one problem, repave it, and tear it out again months later to fix another that could have been fixed the first time, we need to spend the resources we have in the most efficient way possible.
We need to redevelop all of High River, not just the location of berms. This community is rich in culture, even though there is minimal support for it. The character of our town resides in our Downtown core, and it must be retained. Developments must be smart, forward-looking, and with a 10-year vision, not a re-election vision.
Some people still fear how High River will recover. The answer is "it will". How it recovers is dependent on who leads the recovery. The best parts of democracy start with the right people for the job in the local government.
I've heard time and time again "it won't matter what Council does, because in two years everyone will forget." Do not allow yourselves to forget. Hold Town Council to account. Only then can we have any hope of avoiding June 20, 2013 again.
I implore everyone to really get to know your Town of High River Council candidates. The right people can make this Town a beacon of light in Alberta. The wrong people can cause a flood of problems that we will be managing for decades.
The right people are electable because they will do what's right. The wrong people are electable because they are the loudest.
I believe Richard Murray is one of those "right people". Murray will do what's right. He won't be the loudest, but his background knowledge, his "big picture thinking", and his vision make him the "right person". So while I know he won't be the loudest, I'll be loud for him.
While I've already told you why, I still believe you need to see for yourself, so visit his site at www.voteformurray.ca.
Because I love this town.
Certainly when I heard about Mount Royal University cutting funding for their Arts programs, nobody should be shocked that I was upset. It took a bit of thinking after my last letter to really discern the big picture, though.
We should have seen this coming. We should have been fighting against it long before it happened. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, I shake my head in disappointment at myself for not seeing it before.
Between this article from a 2004 edition of U of C's Gauntlet, the comments from Associate Professor Bill Bunn in this CBC News report, and the MRU's 2012-2017 Academic Plan (check out page 8, it becomes obvious there), the pieces of the puzzle fall into place to show the impending demise of the school's Arts programs. Arts Advocates should have seen it coming. They (we) didn't because we blindly believed every corner of Alberta also believed in the Arts. Now we are staring down the barrel of the gun, seeing the beginnings of the demise of Arts in Alberta.
No matter the warnings, Mount Royal pushed forward, with it's main argument being reputation. Apparently a degree at a really great college is still only a degree at a college, and therefore graduates cannot compete in the marketplace. Forget the fact that the programs the college built its reputation on became tertiary the second they adopted the name "University".
Basically, for the sake of a name, Mount Royal has turned its back on its past. But it's worse than that. As a result of the finite funding Cooney warned us about, these diploma programs have received the axe, and the wonderful diversity we saw in Calgary's post-secondary institutions got sliced with it.
Certainly the cuts are the fault of mismanagement of our province's funding by the PC government. But that is not the only place the fault lies. Mount Royal got itself so pidgeon-holed on the idea of a namesake lending value to their programs that it forgot about the value of those programs. The PC government has mechanics in place to prevent the loss of those programs, but instead for the sake of having five universities in the province, it still let it happen anyway.
Having five universities does not make Alberta an educational leader. It makes Alberta an educational elitist. We claim to have the best schools at any level. Thanks to these most recent cuts, and the pidgeon-mindedness of MRU and any other school considering cutting programs, we can't claim that any more. We may be able to claim the best at the highest level, but we leave all else behind.
Alberta should not be considered great because we have the most highly educated people. Alberta should be great because we respect all people with all interests and all abilities, and we work hard to help each one achieve success and prosperity. In a PC Alberta, where funding is cut to programs that would open up that diverse prosperity because the government cannot manage their books, we will not see that wholly inclusive Alberta.
I don't see MRU changing their mind, without changing years of their priorities. I don't see the PC's changing their tactics to our finances either. So what are we going to do to ensure the diversity of education in our province is preserved?
Well, one thing we can do is find someone else to manage the province's books in 2016.
The other is to help schools like MRU understand how important the Arts are by showing up to every performance the school has in support of it. The next concert is Mount Royal Kantorei on Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 PM. Show up, and teach MRU how important the Arts are to Albertans.
Dear Board of Governors;
I understand that due to provincial funding cutbacks, Mount Royal University has had to make some difficult choices. I am very concerned about the direction Mount Royal University is taking with regards to its Fine Arts programming, and hope that you find other ways of dealing with inadequate funding from the current Progressive Conservative government
On recommendation from the Vice President Academic, the school will be cutting its entire arts and cultural faculty, effective Spring 2013. This is in complete contrast to comments made previously by government officials about how important fine arts education is. We respect the difficulty of the decision you are faced with, but we ask that you approach the decision well-informed and with an open mind.
The funding cuts equate to a complete loss for the school’s theatre and music programs. These are Mount Royal's only fine arts offerings. Of particular concern is the proposed cuts to the MRU Jazz Faculty. Mount Royal University is widely revered as the best two-year jazz diploma in Canada and unique in Alberta. I have a number of students who have benefitted directly from the Mount Royal University Jazz Program in particular, either as High School students attending camps, or as Post-Secondary students studying for performance. Many could attribute their success to the incredible leadership of Mount Royal University’s programs.
Upon discussion with Vice President and Provost, Manuel Mertin, members of the Alberta Band Association (of which I am a member) were informed that although the Mount Royal University Program is "exceptional", it is slated to be cut due to its status as a two-year diploma program; although there were other two-year programs that were spared. It was also suggested that students wishing to study jazz at a post-secondary level could move to Edmonton and participate at Grant MacEwan. However, Grant MacEwan is not a jazz school and they do not have capacity to take all of Mount Royal University's students. In order for Grant MacEwan or any other Alberta institution to be able to accept the would-be-stranded Mount Royal University students, they would need to have seen an increase in funding from the government, which we know to not be the case. They would also need to adjust their programs to meet the high standard of excellence Mount Royal University has developed as a reputation.
This equates to a loss of 120 student seats in theatre and music programs. Over the next year, this change will result in a loss of five full-time faculty members, two support staff, and nearly 20 part-time instructors, not to mention the programs' performance groups and theatre productions. It will obviously also have a significant impact on the mentorship of emerging artists on Calgary’s mainstages. It will also have an impact on the Public Education system who relies heavily on Mount Royal University’s leadership in jazz instruction.
I sincerely request that you save the Mount Royal University Jazz program and let it continue to be the globally-recognized program Calgary is known for. Please note that I will also be sharing my dismay with the Ministers of Advanced Education and Finance as well as the Premier for putting you in this situation.
Joel Windsor, B.A., B.Ed.
Music Specialist, Notre Dame Collegiate, High River, Alberta
President, High River and District Music Festival Association
Premier of Alberta
Liberal Party of Alberta Advanced Education Critic
Wildrose Party Advanced Education Critic
New Democratic Party of Alberta Advanced Education Critic
Member of Legislative Assembly for the Highwood Constituency
President of the Alberta Party
This message appeared in the program of the High River and District Lions Music Festival in 2013.
Dear Arts Advocates,
We are pleased you have joined us for this year’s High River and District Lions Music Festival. We are so pleased to be surrounded by so many passionate musicians, parents, teachers and advocates. Through an event such as this, it becomes quite obvious the value music has in our society and in our lives.
Thank you to the parents and teachers who advocate for their students so vehemently. Thank you to the students, for refining your craft and sharing it with us, and for inspiring not only those who follow you, but also those who lead you. Thank you to the solid foundation of volunteers who organized this festival and made it happen. Thank you to the Sponsors who put their money where their heart is and by doing so make our Arts community stronger for it. Perhaps most especially, thank you to the members of our audience, the receptors of our musical communication, for being the most basic and necessary form of Arts Advocates.
True profit in Arts and Culture is not measured in dollars, euros or yen. It in fact is immeasurable, although its effects can easily be seen in the eyes of every student, teacher or parent who has been exposed to it. Those who cannot package that experience and sell it have a difficult time understanding what electrifies us. Yet we press on, knowing that intrinsic value is not always meant to be understood, just experienced.
Music itself is temporal. Truly emotive music must be performed and experienced; no digital device can emote and express the way a living and breathing musician and audience member can. With our High River and District Lions Music Festival, we see how that happens in each performance. It is for this reason we work so hard to produce this festival, to continue to see that every year, and be inspired by it.
It should be noted that we are in desperate need of Arts Advocates, who are willing to put their time where their values already reside. Our Board is in need of extra support, as in its current state, our Festival organization is not sustainable, and we so desperately want it to be so to the benefit of our young musicians. As John F. Kennedy said over 50 years ago, “to further the appreciation of culture among all the people, to increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art – this is one of the fascinating challenges of these days”. We ask that you seriously consider helping us take this challenge on. We need teachers, parents and supporters, young or old, to take this challenge on. We need you.
Please consider joining us as we seek to provide venue for the inspiration our young musicians offer. Your life, and ours, will be enriched by your efforts, and you will make a real and lasting impact on the lives of our young musicians as well.
Thank you once again for supporting young musicians simply with your presence, and please continue to share with all those around you how rich you truly are because you have music.
Click here to see the letter in PDF Format.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
I would like to thank you for your message, but it does raise some concerns for me. I am concerned about how you collected the email addresses of teachers you sent this letter to. Certainly you sent this to my school board email account which is public domain, but your reference to a “list” of email addresses concerns me, and makes me wonder how you came to get my email address. It suggests that you had access to some unknown database of emails and used it without the consent of the owners of those emails. The suggestion that you are taking ownership of this “list” also concerns me. I know I certainly did not provide any email address to your office for the purposes of this communication, and had I actually been invited to do so, I would not have provided you with my work email address.
However, in the spirit of keeping a constructive and collegial relationship with you, I would like to invite you to continue to communicate with me. I would prefer you use my personal email, so as to separate my political discussions from my professional discussions. I am sending this email using that address. It is my expectation that you develop a new database where permission has been given to you to communicate with teachers as citizens through private emails, and that I am included in that new database. It is also my expectation that my privacy is assured, and that no person other than the Minister of Education (or their representative) uses that database, and by extension, my personal email account.
Aside from my concerns of Privacy, I do have some other concerns I wish to raise with you. First, due to the projected losses in Budget 2013, it seems that every department is looking at cuts, including Education. It is my view that any budget cuts were fully preventable, and that many budget cuts could be deemed unnecessary should the revenue and tax structure of the province be adjusted or changed, but that is for discussion with the Finance Minister.
It has been rumored that the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement is one of those significant programs facing the chopping block. I hope that this is indeed just rumor and nothing more. However, if AISI is cut, many of the province’s best innovations in teaching will disappear with it. If you truly value the innovations we have brought to classrooms around the province (as you suggested in your email to teachers), you will also value the AISI projects, and continue to fund them. If you cut AISI, you are looking at as many as 350 teachers losing their jobs. These teachers were hired specifically for the AISI projects their divisions are undertaking, and therefore have no classrooms waiting for them should their jobs disappear. AISI funding cuts will also remove Professional Development funding for every other teacher in the province as well. You can almost guarantee that with that many teaching jobs lost, remaining teachers will not be allocated time to innovate and improve their practice, and with their Professional Development funds drying up, those innovations may all but cease. This is not the way to encourage our Education system to remain among the best in the world.
Another concern I have is that in your email of December 12, 2013 to board chairs, you seem to be trying to subvert the local bargaining process. Local bargaining participants are the locals of the Alberta Teachers Association and their respective School Boards. The Minister has no role in such negotiations, and to insert yourself into such discussions could easily make it difficult for teachers or School Boards to feel as though you are supportive of that process.
Your suggestion that our province should consider merit-pay for teachers is also troublesome. Being a co-chair of Inspiring Education, where discussions have occurred surrounding incentive pay, you have undoubtedly been exposed to piles of research indicating the ineffective and destructive nature of merit-pay in Education. Mentioning it now inserts questions that have no place in our Education system. It is confusing as to why an Education Minister would do this.
With regards to the prescriptive curriculum, you are absolutely right, it does need to be addressed, but this is old news. Since 2007, your department has been working on updating and improving the Arts Education curriculum. The new curriculum under the original proposal was set to be rolled out this year, and even though your department went back to the drawing board in 2009, it seems as though you are still at that drawing board. It used to be that teachers had significant input into curriculum development, but the reason this curriculum review went back to the drawing board is because they were not involved appropriately in the process. While I agree with your statement that prescriptive curriculum must be reviewed, I would love if that statement were converted into action. The Arts Education curriculum review needs get back underway again in a fully transparent way, so as to avoid having to go back to the drawing board again, and teachers must have significant involvement in the development of the curriculum, as we are the professionals in both Arts Education content and Arts Education pedagogy. In many areas, Arts Education is the reason some of our students come to school. The Arts breathe of life, culture, character, peace and community; all the things in the “unwritten curriculum”. We need an Arts Education curriculum that provides the time, space and opportunity to explore these aspects of our society and our students’ lives. By extension, we need our Education Ministry to set curriculum and resource development as a priority to ensure that such a curriculum exists.
I can understand your frustration with the fact that tripartite agreements broke down in November of 2012. I am quite frustrated with this too. It seems to me that the ATA proposal was more than reasonable, and considering the pinch you are currently experiencing with a poor projection of Budget 2013, a 0% raise this year and next would look rather favorable (especially when looked at through the lens of our previous contract, which would have teachers receiving an approximately 4% raise this year alone). However, with the concerns I’ve already mentioned it is understandable how a person can have a difficult time taking you at your word. You explain that you would like to try to reduce low-importance administrative tasks to deal with teacher workload, but it is hard to believe that will actually happen. I hope you can understand that, from my perspective, hard caps on time is a perfectly reasonable trade-off for not having to worry about your budget in a time when you have to consider cuts.
However, none of that matters now, as we are in local bargaining, where you can almost be guaranteed that hard caps will be discussed, and so will raises. As such, your involvement in the bargaining process is not appropriate, no matter how frustrated you are with the past.
I would prefer to work constructively with you. To that end I ask that you remove yourself completely from the local bargaining process, giving the School Boards the autonomy they have earned through the electoral process, and giving teachers the opportunity to focus on classroom conditions, not politics. I also ask that you review any consideration you have given to cutting AISI funding, and really evaluate AISI’s long-term benefits. Lastly, I ask that you re-double or re-triple efforts to improving the curriculum of all Arts Education. I would be happy to provide you with input at each of step of these processes.