Ottawa arts businesses to get boost in city’s refreshed economic development strategy

Mixing board

City staff are proposing a new umbrella organization, modelled as an innovation centre for the arts that brings together representatives of local creative industries, to help boost Ottawa’s economy.

It’s one of several recommendations in the city’s annual revaluation of its economic development strategy, which will be considered by the finance and economic development committee Tuesday.

Among them is a proposal to create an organization and physical hub to join players and businesses in the music, film and other creative industries, in the same vein as the House of Sport at the R.A. Centre or the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards.

Kitchissippi ward councillor Jeff Leiper, who has been an advocate for developing the city’s music industry since he took office, says there’s great potential in bringing the Ottawa artists under one roof. To give a simple example, the idea might be that a videographer walking past a band’s rehearsal space might be inspired to sign them to do the soundtrack for her next film.

“One of the hopes for the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards is that it’s going to create collisions between the startup companies that are housed there. I think it makes a lot of sense to try to find a physical location where we can put some of our creative industries so they can create some of those same collisions,” he says.

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Coun. Jeff Leiper (Kitchissippi Ward) says he believes a thriving arts scene could help attract new talent to Ottawa. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

The report mentions the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition’s music strategy and the establishment of the Ottawa Film Office as a nonprofit as “setting the stage” for the creative hub. Coun. Leiper says integrating the vision of these groups would be imperative to the success of such a hub.

The exact form and goals of the creative hub have yet to be decided, though Coun. Leiper says there are a number of ways a successful arts scene can impact a city’s economy. Tourism dollars and employment in the arts are obvious ones, but there’s a role for festivals and entertainment to play in talent attraction and retention.

Metrics like those can be tough to measure, he says, but it’s worth exploring those methodologies.

Eyes on talent, commercial vacancies

Talent is a priority elsewhere in the report, which suggests the development of a citywide “talent committee.” The group would bring together post-secondary institutions, nonprofits and other organizations on issues of education, skills training and attracting talent to the city. It would help alleviate concerns, expressed anecdotally and in the 2017 Ottawa Business Growth Survey, that the city is facing a shortage of skilled workers.

The report notes that the proposed committee would build on the work being done through Invest Ottawa’s “Work in Ottawa” campaign to attract workers to the city. The report confirms an impending merger of Invest Ottawa with ICBY, and proposes an increase in the economic development agency’s annual budget.

Invest Ottawa could also partner with the city on a marketing campaign of vacant commercial spaces in the city, the report suggests. The proposal would help business owners and investors by pre-identifying available sites for occupancy and development in the city.

Elsewhere, the report points to rural economic development, agri-tech as well as health sciences (specifically related to the development of the new Civic Hospital Campus) as other potential growth areas of the city’s economy.