Locally, we could be more creative

Posted 06.17.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Cultural tourism is something we have steadfastly refused to recognize, apart from a few efforts to catalogue historical, heritage, or religious buildings. The biggest element we've supported has been the Pontiac Artists' Studio Tour every June -- and it does attract visitors from outside. With non-existent tourism infrastructure, those visitors come for a day and then go home, or cross to Ontario to find lodging.

Cultural events and shows are considered one of Montreal's main attractions, and its infrastructure keeps the millions, yes, millions of visitors, in the city for days. They spend more, visit more sites, expositions, view shows, tours -- all leaving substantial funds behind. Ottawa is another powerhouse cultural destination.

We will never compete with Montreal or the national capital -- but why do we absolutely ignore this tourism opportunity?

We would not be starting from scratch. Pontiac already has a reputation for excellent artists and Ottawa Valley's music heritage is recognized across Canada. These are resources that cannot be built up in a couple of years. We have them already.

The first step is to identify cultural tourism as an important part of our economy -- and that means committed funding.

The artists themselves are working hard and sacrificing. Ten years ago, basically the same artists who had set up the Studio Tour (now duplicated across the country) launched a very ambitious project within cultural tourism -- the Pontiac School of the Arts.

Headquartered in the Stone School Gallery in Portage-du-Fort, the Pontiac School follows the model of the super-successful Haliburton School of the Arts, closer to Toronto. The Haliburton facility is known world wide, and has boosted the economy there, as well as arts and heritage.

Pontiac's was an intelligent plan -- we have the resources (accomplished artists) and the attractive environment that fascinates visitors -- forests, farms, rivers, and lakes. And the School was, relatively, successful, considering the hurdles it faced and still faces -- sparse government, institutional; and corporate funding, reliance on volunteers, and the lack of supporting infrastructure (motels, billets, cafes, music venues).

Ten years later it is remarkable that the Pontiac School of the Arts continues, and it is a testimony to the artists themselves and all the volunteers (or those working on volunteer-sized salaries). But the other side of the coin is that these volunteers are exhausted, funding is exhausted, and cooperative ventures and promotional tools are no more forthcoming than ten years ago.

Folks, this may be one of our last years to profit from this very remarkable school in our midst. Now is the time to use it, if you've ever thought about sending a child or grandchild, or taking a course to increase your skill level or explore an entirely new field of self-expression.

Facilities like this are very rare -- even in the la-de-dash cities. Pontiac has highly skilled resident artists, has a stunning environment, even the Old Stone School building is rare and valuable, as is Coronation Hall, another art school site. The close contact with artists, the daily immersion in our landscape, these are not available in cities.

But if we and other Pontiac families do not promote and patronize the Pontiac School of the Arts, can we expect outsiders to do so? If we don't talk it up, how will the word get out to the wide population?

We can't keep waiting for un-interested governments to solve our problems. We can step up to the plate, you and I and our grandkids! It's all here: artpontiac.com.


Copyright © 2014 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.14