Culture Counts

Ashlee standish playing piano at the Falls.

2015 Niagara Falls Culture Plan

In 2015, City Council for Niagara Falls approved a Culture Plan to identify, leverage and strengthen the community’s cultural resources. It will result in a better awareness of the City’s cultural resources, an improved quality of life for residents, opportunities to recognize and develop the cultural sector as both a cultural asset and an economic engine, as well as create improved opportunities for artists and cultural organizations to network, and to showcase or exhibit their artistic talent.   You can download a copy of the Plan here.

Dream Installation on Queen Street.


In total, twenty-four recommendations were made, based upon a synthesis of the major data themes and findings from the various lines of investigation as reported earlier. These are summarized below;

Section 3 of the main report contains further details relating to details of the recommendations themselves as well as their rationale.

  1. Council Approval in Principle: Council should first approve the Culture Plan in principle, and refer it

back to staff to develop a detailed implementation plan, based upon the subsequent recommendations contained within this Report.

  1. Create Dedicated Cultural Officer Position: Change the job title of the current Community Development Coordinator to Arts & Culture Coordinator, and revise the job description as required to create a position that is dedicated to working with the arts, culture and heritage sectors. The prime responsibility of this position in the first three years would be the implementation of this Culture Plan.
  1. Undertake Feasibility Study for Culture Hub: A key objective of this Culture Plan is the development of a centralized facility for a range of arts and culture activities including a large public art gallery space; a commercial space for local artists; a mid-size affordable performing arts venue primarily for community use; possibly studio space for working artists; and related required office and administrative space. A feasibility study of such a facility should be undertaken (Section 3 of the Report contains further details as to what specifics should be reviewed in such a study).

Art Competition Installation at City Hall

  1. Performing Arts Facility: The surveys and interviews revealed that many residents feel that a small scale and affordable community theatre is needed in the City (preliminary visions are to have an intimate and cost effective facility of on the order of 300 – 500 seats). Accordingly, at the same time as an investigation into the desirability and feasibility of a cultural hub is being explored, an assessment of the potential for the Seneca Queen Street Theatre in this regard should be undertaken.
  1. Investigate selling CORE building and using proceeds for the cultural hub: Assuming the cultural organizations contained within the CORE building could be re-housed within the Cultural Hub, or elsewhere, consider the sale of the CORE building to help finance the capital costs of development of the Cultural Hub. This should be part of the feasibility study investigation that is the subject of Recommendation #3.
  1. Two Local Cultural Precincts: There are two cultural precincts in Niagara Falls: one is the ‘heritage/cultural precinct’ around the Museum / Lundy’s Lane / Battlefield area and the other is the ‘cultural precinct’ around the downtown (Queen Street and along the Victoria Street spine west from Queen Street). Each of these has a certain ‘critical mass’ of facilities and activities and are logical districts that the Culture Plan should attempt to reinforce and further identify. Both precincts are on the WEGO route which positions them well from an accessibility standpoint. As well, the expansion of the Sylvia Place market – a historic function of that area of the City – will reinforce the identity of this as an historic area.
  1. Gateways: The Official Plan for the City of Niagara Falls anticipated a number of entrance gateways into the City from various directions. In a manner similar to public art, such gateways can be symbols of the importance of art, culture and heritage to the community. The Culture Plan should support such gateways and encourage them to reflect related themes in their district. Gateways are located in the Lundy’s Lane area and Queen Street to reflect the cultural/historical themes.

Manuel Trijulo Faucet Art Installation.

  1. Lundy’s Lane Battlefield: Several comments in the interviews and surveys related to the importance of the Lundy’s Lane Battlefield and Cemetery site to the history of Canada (some even likening it in terms of national importance to the Gettysburg site in the USA). Recognizing that the Battlefield and Drummond Hill Cemetery does tell a significant and nationally important story, the Culture Plan does recommend a number of initiatives to preserve and further enhance the site. These include: development of appropriate interpretation for the overall site (i.e. prior to the development of the school and seniors’ residence) using traditional as well as social media (e.g. apps); creation of an on-line application of what the Battlefield site looked like prior to development (including aerial views), key developments in the battle itself, etc. so that a virtual experience of the battle could be had to convey some feeling as to the significance of the overall site (note: this could be one of the projects sponsored through the ‘innovative projects’ fund discussed in Recommendation #18).
  1. Queen Street Revitalization: The revitalization of Queen Street is a long-term project and one that does not lend itself to an easy or overnight solution. In the past, various schemes such as turning it into an arts incubator or entertainment district have not come to fruition. This Culture Plan by itself is not a downtown revitalization strategy, but there are elements of it that will provide positive support and context to efforts in this regard. The potential for any aspect of implementation of this Culture Plan to support the revitalization of Queen Street should accordingly be a key priority.
  1. Library Facilities: The Niagara Falls Public Library is clearly a key player in the cultural life of the community, and was seen through all of the local data collection initiatives (interviews, community survey, organizations survey) as a major asset in the community. The Library has its own strategy, and this Culture Plan is not intended to be a repeat of that process. The overall recommendation made to the City is to reinforce the growth and development of the Library as expressed in its own plan, in particular: the longer-term refurbishment and renovation of the Victoria Street (Main) branch; the expansion or redevelopment (yet to be determined) of the Stamford Branch in order to better serve that community; and the provision of expanded children’s and teen programming.
  1. Linkage to the Tourism Industry: While this Culture Plan was developed primarily by the community (through the extensive data collection undertaken) and for the community, there are nonetheless elements that may have significant potential to attract additional tourism to the area. One of the roles of the Recreation & Culture Department staff should be to liaise regularly with the tourism-related organizations and agencies in the area (e.g. the Regional Tourism Organization (TPN), Niagara Falls Tourism, etc.) to ensure that they are kept apprised of relevant development and activities on the cultural and heritage front. (And vice versa.)
  1. Develop a Marketing Campaign for Culture: Design and implement a marketing plan for Culture programming and events in Niagara Falls that coordinates all community arts, culture, and heritage activities. The program would aim to do the following: promote arts, culture, and heritage as important components of a resident’s life and livelihood in the Niagara Falls area; help organizations to promote their special events and activities; provide a portal for arts, culture, and heritage organizations to network, share ideas, coordinate activities, and find information (such as contact information) about each other [see Recommendation #15]; a way for individuals to trade ideas, views, maintain contact, and comment on arising issues; listing of and links to all community arts, culture and heritage groups; links to the mapping database (including the functionality to enable all participating [validated] organizations to update and change their information as required); and continuing to publish the calendar / schedule of events. Social media should be used to establish a two-way conversation with the community and visitors. Possibilities to consider include: Facebook, Twitter for announcements; Pinterest or Instagram pages for visual art; and Myspace (for performing arts) pages.
  1. A More Effective Web-Site Presence for Culture Should be maintained: Right now culture has a comparatively low profile on the City’s web pages. This should be redeveloped in order to portray a more proactive and inclusive approach to the sector. Included in this makeover should be: direct contact information to the new position of Cultural Coordinator; listing of and links to all community culture groups; links to the mapping database (including the functionality to enable all participating [validated] organizations to update and change their information as required); and continuing to publish the calendar / schedule of events.
  1. Arts Web Portal: One of the outputs of this project has been the development of a database of arts organizations in the City (and eventually artists, crafts-persons and private sector suppliers to the cultural sector) to post and update information about their organizations, products, skills, etc. and thus be recognized in the community. One of the roles of the Recreation & Culture staff should be to oversee the currency and accuracy of this information; to encourage organizations to update it from time to time; and to use the information in the development of brochures, maps, contact lists, etc. as required.
  1. Adopt a Partnership Focus: Additional partnerships should be forged between the City and other groups in the community and Region that are focused upon providing arts, culture and heritage related opportunities for residents. The most logical potential partners include: the City of St. Catharines (to ensure reciprocal awareness of program and activities, as well as use of facilities); the Niagara Parks Commission: regarding scheduling of events, as well as to ensure that City input is provided in their two upcoming initiatives (planning for an outdoor performing arts venue in ‘The Grove’ as well as looking for uses for the iconic Canada Niagara Power building); and the owner of the Niagara Centre for the Arts, regarding the main strategic directions contained within this plan, impact upon his own operations, potential partnership initiatives, etc.
  1. BIAs: The City of Niagara Falls contains seven distinct BIAs (Downtown [i.e. Queen Street]; Clifton Hill; Fallsview; Lundy’s Lane; Main/Ferry; Chippawa; and Victoria Centre). While all of them are host to certain types of cultural and heritage activities (which may be art galleries, dance schools, music stores, unique restaurants, bars and performance venues, etc.) two of these figure prominently in the cultural and historical assets of the City, and in the notion of developing two historical / cultural precinct areas in the City (the historical one at Lundy’s Lane / Battlefield area, and the cultural one at Queen Street). As a first step, Recreation and Culture staff should meet with all BIA Managers (ideally, together) to explain this plan, solicit any further input regarding suggestions, assistance with implementation, partnership opportunities, etc.
  1. Festivals and Events: The City should consider developing more arts and culture-oriented festivals and events, with the objective of developing a year-round calendar of such activities. To be considered in particular would be a live music event, and a literary festival. More multicultural events should also be considered. Finally, a ‘First Thursday or Friday’ type event, involving openings and special activities along Main/Ferry Streets and/or Queen Street, could be encouraged as both a cultural event involving the private sector, as well as an initiative contributing to the revitalization of that area.
  1. Increased Funding for Culture Groups: The City’s current community development policy of not providing cultural programs directly, but rather funding cultural organizations that in turn provide such opportunities, is a good way of ensuring that they are focused on meeting ‘market demand’ and the real need of the community. This overall approach should continue. (The Public Library and the Museum are the two exceptions to this approach with the Museum directly operated by the City and the Public Library governed by the Public Library Board.) However our review of the relative levels at which other cities fund their cultural sectors – particularly those against which Niagara Falls is benchmarked for the purpose of this study – appears to indicate that Niagara Falls is ‘underfunding’ its cultural sector to some extent. If the City funded its cultural sector to a comparable level with the other benchmark communities, it would increase its budget for these activities by (conservatively estimated) $200,000 to $300,000 per year.

At present, the City only funds two culture groups (Niagara Falls Art Gallery & Niagara Falls Concert Band). In future, consideration should be given to funding more such groups (assuming they meet objective criteria relating to the provision of arts, culture and heritage related programs). Particular components of this recommendation would include: designation of a pool of funds to be allocated to culture articulation of specific criteria for groups to meet in applying for such funds: these may relate to the provision of certain types of programming: children, teens, specialty cultural areas such as writers’ workshops an annual application process, with clear timeframes and deadlines transparency to the community in terms of funding allocated clear ‘reporting back’ requirements so that municipal staff and Council can see the results from funds allocated provision of feedback to organizations that were unsuccessful in any given year, so that they might be more successful in the following funding round

Fund Innovative Arts Projects and Ideas: Every year, new cultural initiatives and ideas should be encouraged throughout the City. One way to do this would be to allocate a certain amount of new funding (e.g. $5,000 - $10,000) to new cultural initiatives and projects. A jury-reviewed process should be set up to review applications and ideas, and award the amount to one or two of the most  innovative projects that have the potential to engage the local community with cultural and heritage related ideas and activities.

Municipal staff (coordinated through the Cultural Officer position) would have a key role in advising

Council on the funding to be allocated and the amounts for each group. This recommendation should be phased in over a 2-3 year period, giving existing funded organizations sufficient lead time to prepare for this new funding regime.

  1. Capacity-Building Workshops: One of the key elements of cultural plans elsewhere is that the municipality periodically offers various capacity-building workshops to cultural groups and organizations in the community. These can typically be on a number of topics of relevance to the organizations, including: effective marketing and promotion; audience development techniques; succession planning; financial planning and management; fundraising techniques; commercialization and how to start a business (for individual artisans and crafts-persons); and effective social marketing techniques.
  1. Encourage Council Representation for MCH and Arts and Culture Advisory Committees:

There are three Committees of Council that are Council’s link to the arts, culture and heritage life of

Niagara Falls: these are (1) the Municipal Heritage Committee, (2) the Niagara Falls Museum

Advisory Board, and (3) the Arts and Culture Committee. None of these Committees has formal

Council representation. This sends a very negative message to the entire cultural community regarding the importance of the sector in Council’s eyes. While there is no mechanism to make Council participation on these bodies mandatory, it is strongly encouraged that Council shows a more active interest in the business of these Committees by appointing members to at least some of these Committees.

Picture of an artiste at Porchfest.

  1. Reduce Number of Committees: Ultimately with the new term of Council, the City should consider merging the certain committees of council in order to reduce duplication, enhance committee mandate and encourage efficiencies. An immediate step to this effect would be to merge the Arts & Culture committee with the Museum Advisory committee to form the new Culture and Museum Committee (or possibly, simply ‘Culture Committee’). While each Committee has its own area of responsibility, it is felt that there is more to be gained in common cause and information–sharing in a merged Committee than might be lost through a lack of focus on each Committee’s current sphere of influence.
  1. Revised Public Art Policy: As a visible and tangible symbol of a commitment to public art and arts education, the City should adopt a ‘policy’ towards the establishment of a fund dedicated for public art. (In other words, earmark a designated amount for public art purposes.) As well, more education of the public on parkland dedication policies and Section 37 provisions of the Planning Act (which enable municipalities to grant certain development concessions in return for community benefits) would be helpful.
  1. Hold a Niagara Falls Cultural Summit: A one-day cultural summit devoted to discussing ways and means of implementing this plan should be held soon after Council has endorsed it (see Recommendation #1). This should be a facilitated session including a presentation of the plan and its key recommendations as well as a discussion of how the plan overall can be implemented. All stakeholders contributing input to the plan developed here plus the general public should be invited.
  1. Accountability Report Card: Progress made on the implementation of the Culture Plan should be reported back to the community each year. It is recommended that a short (2-3 page) progress report be prepared to be shared with Council as well as with the general public. Also, possibly a Cultural Summit (see Recommendation #23) could be reprised (approximately) one year after the first Summit to present to the arts, culture and heritage organizations as well as the general public what progress has been made on the Plan, what new opportunities may have presented themselves, and to solicit direction from the community on any new directions that should be pursued.

Artwork by Manuel Trujilo