An art-lover’s four takeaways from “Windsor Works”

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Written by Jennifer Matotek, Executive Director of The Art Gallery of Windsor

On Monday, February 8, City Council discussed, along with 19 delegates, the results of “Windsor Works” — an economic development report commissioned by the city and put together by UK-based consulting firm Public First. The report looks at the key pillars Windsor needs in place to develop and diversify Windsor’s economy.

Since the report is nearly 300 pages I thought I’d do us arts-loving folks a favour and give you my arts-and-culture-loving take on it. There’s a lot to be excited about in this report if you love culture! Here are my takeaways:

Investing in cultural assets and amenities will make the city more appealing for young professional and working families. As the report notes,great jobs attract skilled workers, who in turn provide the income for cultural amenities” and “highly-skilled workers want to live in a cosmopolitan place that is attractive and where there is plenty to do.” The report is clear that Windsor will see economic returns by investing in arts and culture. However, there is a hill to climb to turn around Ontarians’ perceptions of Windsor’s arts and culture scene. One section of the report, where Ontarians were surveyed about their attitudes towards six Ontario cities, 26% viewed Windsor as having weak local culture and heritage attractions (versus Toronto, where 77% lauded the strength of that city’s local culture and heritage attractions).

Windsor would be wise to learn from the economic turn-around stories of other ‘rust belt’ cities. The report notes that most effective rust belt ‘turnarounds’ — found in cities such as Pittsburgh and Coventry, UK — relied on world-class research and development, and strength in innovation. As a creative thinker, I can definitely see the Art Gallery of Windsor, along with the University of Windsor and St. Clair College, playing a role in strengthening innovative thinking and research in our city.

Windsor’s and Detroit’s rich histories provide unique opportunities to create targeted cultural events. Detroit’s economic revival was bolstered, in part, by their cultural revival. The report suggests that becoming a ‘festival city’ will help Windsor enhance our appeal and economic potential. Windsor’s iconic riverfront (where the AGW is located) was identified as a great potential site for more festivals and events. The report recommends a complete riverfront revitalization, with culture playing a major role in enhancing our best physical asset.

The city should invest in the cultural infrastructure of downtown Windsor, specifically. The report notes that while the city has increased their investment in parks and recreation/culture between 2014 and 2019, Windsor is not scoring highly enough in the area of people and culture. To be successful, the reports suggests Windsor needs to become a cosmopolitan place that is attractive with plenty to do. There was a “complete consensus” in the community consultation portion around the need to revitalize downtown Windsor. Having said that, the report also notes that “very expensive investments that assume ‘if you build it, they will come’ almost never work.” I think this is an important note– that it’s rarely one giant cultural amenity that makes or breaks an entire city — it’s the ‘right kind’ of investment that enhances an arts and culture scene.

One of the things I believe the pandemic has shown us is that with the border closed, we can’t depend on Detroit as our only source of vibrant arts and culture. Windsor’s proximity to Detroit and its arts and culture scene is awesome, but there’s a lot going on in our own community with great opportunities for development. I’m really excited by the role the Art Gallery of Windsor might play in supporting the report recommendations around arts and culture working with the City. Our future is bright, and full of potential.

The Art Gallery of Windsor (AGW) is a non-profit public art gallery that uses the power of art to open hearts and minds to new ideas.