Updated April 12
The City of Ottawa is looking at both practical and bureaucratic methods of promoting local music, including finding new performance places and making it easier to load in equipment.

Miles in the Sky ©Brett Delmage, 2015
The proposed City of Ottawa music strategy aims to brand Ottawa as a Music City, support musicians and venues, and attract new local and visiting listeners. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

It has unveiled a proposed music strategy, to be implemented by both the city and the local music industry from now until 2020. The three-year strategy was unanimously passed at the city's Finance and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday and by City Council on April 11.

The strategy argues that the city will benefit from a vibrant music economy through "job creation, economic growth, tourism development, city brand building and artistic growth. A strong music community also aids in attracting highly skilled employees from across various industries, who put a high value on quality of life."

The goal is to "create hometown pride and global renown". It aims to create a "music friendly" environment where "musicians and music businesses of all sizes and types, from live music venues to studios to manufacturers, can flourish".

The committee approved implementing only the first stage of the strategy, with primarily bureaucratic changes. They include reassigning a city staff person to be a Music Development Officer, responsible for implementing the strategy in coordination with the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC), and providing $100,000 in funding to OMIC in 2018. It also agreed to promote music-friendly policies in planning, transportation, and bylaw/police departments (for example, noise regulations).

On a more practical basis, the committee agreed the city would

  • create a musician loading parking permit, to make it easier to load in heavy equipment like drumsets at venues where there isn't accessible off-street parking.
  • have Ottawa Tourism promote Ottawa's music scene, and ensure that music is part of Ottawa's "branding".
  • identify potential music venues in city libraries, community centres, parks, and on mobile centres, and make "under-utilized, less traditional City-owned facilities and infrastructure available for City music programming, as well as to promoters, musicians and other organizers as "pop-up" or flexible venues or rehearsal/workshop space."
  • contract more local musicians "to regularly animate both public and internal City of Ottawa events". The strategy specifically calls for musicians to be paid "at a minimum … according to the Canadian Federation of Musicians union scale, or as appropriate".
  • promote safe spaces for listening, including providing sexual assault training to venues.

The city already provides grants to individual artists, organizations and festivals, presents local music at city theatres like Centrepointe and Shenkman, and delivers music programming at community centres. The Ottawa Public Library lends recordings by local musicians, as well as musical instruments.

OMIC agreed to campaign to broaden its membership, organize quarterly industry forums, and work to increase music industry participation among under-served communities like women and youth. Of OMIC's current members, 5 of 67 musician, 4 of 43 business, and 4 of 15 organizational members either perform jazz or present jazz performances.

The second phase of the strategy (2019-2020) calls for

  • creating an Ottawa Music Development Fund, to fund "projects that strengthen the music industry and ecosystem".
  • creating Ottawa-Gatineau Music Awards and Hall of Fame, in partnership with OMIC.
  • exploring the development of a mid-sized (around 1000-seat) concert venue, either by repurposing existing City-owned space or as part of a new development. The venue would be run as a public-private partnership (P3). The Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans is a current P3 project; however, it is operated by the City.
  • finding innovative ways to support local music education, including in schools and colleges/universities and music industry associations.

These initiatives all depend on funding in subsequent city budgets, and would be considered by City Council in 2019-20.

The strategy also proposed a "Agent of Change" principle in order to safeguard existing music venues and reduce noise complaints. It would require new residential developments close to existing music venues to provide their own sound mitigation, rather than requiring the existing venue to be quieter. It would also require that new music venues prevent sound bleed. This principle is still under study by the city.

The strategy was based on a series of focus groups, plus an on-line survey conducted last fall. Of the survey respondents, only 24% felt it was possible to make a viable living in music while living in Ottawa, and only 37% saw the local music scene as diverse and inclusive.

52% of respondents said they believe local music is poorly promoted and 41% said it was "at least somewhat difficult to find out what is happening in local music". The strategy did not mention local music journalism like that provided by OttawaJazzScene.ca, or local guides to blues or folk music provided by music fans, although it did mention local radio.

The report also did not refer specifically to Ottawa's jazz scene. It talked generically about "music" rather than mentioning specific genres.

April 12: Updated the article to note that the strategy was passed unchanged at Ottawa City Council on April 11.