The City of Ottawa will develop its first music strategy for Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson announced Friday morning at a city-sponsored “Ottawa as a Music City” panel. But not everyone there was convinced that developing a strategy was the best use for the money.
The city and the non-profit Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC) will “strike a task force of music industry stakeholders and business leaders from connected sectors, such as the festival network and Ottawa Tourism, to develop something we need to chart our future, the very first Ottawa Music Strategy in our city's history,” Watson said. The city is allocating $30,000 to fund the necessary research and consultation work, and assigning city staff to work with the task force. No specific timeline was given for creating the strategy.
Watson said the strategy would identify ways to grow Ottawa's musical talent base and music industry. “We're very excited and bullish about the possibility of the industry here in Ottawa growing even faster and bigger. But in order to do that we need a little bit of coordination and we need a little bit of direction and people to step up and help us.”
But panelist Kathleen Edwards was more skeptical. Edwards is an Ottawa singer-songwriter, and also the owner of the Quitters coffee shop in Stittsville. Last November, she sold out the 900-seat NAC Theatre for a Crossroads concert with a jazz ensemble led by Petr Cancura.
“Sometimes I hear 'advisory committee' and I think, 'Why don't you spend that money on a venue that has a long-term plan, that's going to be lasting?' ” she said. “Rather than let's talk how to make that, let's just make that.”
What Ottawa really needs is more venues which that local musicians can book, Edwards said. “We definitely don't have enough venues. There are some really great venues in this city, [but] they're of a size that are pretty inaccessible and unaffordable for certain-tier artists to go into.”
She said the scene needed a few more venues that were “really nurturing and inclusive to the local community, but really show great talent, international touring talent, that Ottawa's a great place to play because we support them when they come.”
At the other end, small venues like Bar Robo, which only seats 40, are really too small to be sustainable for the amount of work the owner has to do, Edwards said. And if an artist becomes more popular and could attract an audience of 80 or more, they have to move to another venue and the first venue can't build on the artist's success.
“It's a really hard slog” to maintain a good music venue, she said, and “they need a bit more support. In Holland, a lot of the mid-sized venues are subsidized – and it's not about getting handouts, but they're supported in a way that they're given a business plan that everyone can survive [on], from the promoters to the staff to the artists coming in.”
Bar Robo owner Scott May was also on the panel. He said that his venue's smaller size allowed them to be more nimble in booking acts, to try out “odd choices”, and to give acts several chances to find an audience because they won't “lose our shirts” on any one act.
He said the city could help club owners like him by improving regulations and noise bylaws that are challenging for a live music venue.
The panel attracted an audience of more than 100, including city councillors, National Arts Centre staff, music media, non-profit organizers, and local musicians, including jazz musicians. It was organized by the Ottawa 2017 Juno Host Committee, and in particular by City Councillor Jeff Leiper, who has been consistently pushing support for Ottawa's music sector since he was elected.
– Alayne McGregor
Watch OttawaJazzScene.ca for a more detailed story, including further interviews
- Beeched Wailers attract keen listeners and players for 1st jam night at Bar Robo
- The community celebrates Ottawa Jazz Hero Roddy Ellias (with a presentation by Mayor Watson)