Music strategy to take first steps with calls for advisory committee

Chris Jackson from Homegrown Live 2023 - photo by Kate Pichora

After Kingston’s Music Strategy was officially approved by city council in December, the first big step is being taken towards building upon its framework as the city seeks out 15 members to sit on its music advisory committee.

City council approved the transfer of $200,000 from the Arts and Culture budget to Tourism Kingston to support the first year of the Music Officer position held by Moira Demorest, with the majority of that funding being used for the salary that comes along with that role.

While a large component of Kingston’s music strategy centred around the appointment of a Music Officer and establishment of a Kingston Music Office, that position is also expected to work closely with an advisory committee that is meant to provide input from the various perspectives that are weaved within Kingston’s music industry.

The advisory group should also bring transparency, and accountability, to the music industry related decisions that will now funnel through Tourism Kingston.

Demorest -who for two years held the Music Commissioner position with Tourism Kingston before officially being named the city’s Music Officer- said that she looks at the advisory team as a means to help her stay transparent within the Tourism Kingston organization and the City of Kingston, and keep Kingston’s musical ambitions on the right path.

She says while the desires of the music community and Tourism Kingston may not be 100% aligned, there are clear ways that they can lend to one another and she feels it’s the right place for the Music Office to live.

“I have a a good read of the organization and what the strengths are of this space and essentially the opportunity for support that this offers,” Demorest said.

“It took two years to to really ensure that this is the right space that could nurture a music office and allow it to grow and fulfill its mandate… They have similar goals in some ways and really, Tourism Kingston is nothing without the Arts and Culture of Kingston… they need the musicians as much as we need them.”

She says other municipalities, as well as Kingston in other arts disciplines, have showcased that operating under the umbrella of their city’s tourism department can be effective.

“From the city’s perspective and from Tourism’s perspective, and just from my own interactions with them [other Music Offices], the ones that were the most relevant and able to really support the musicians as much as possible were within tourism,” Demorest said.

“The other piece was that the Film Office which has been established for many years now has grown and been supported within the organization while still fulfilling its own mandate.”

But Tourism being positioned at the center of the music strategy is a bit worrying for some people who see some clashing as inevitable between what Tourism Kingston and the city’s music industry see as priorities.

Rob Howard, who runs Kingston Live and its efforts to promote the local music scene and events, says he worries that Tourism’s express purpose to put “heads in beds” could overshadow the needs of the music community.

He says a music advisory committee that is genuinely integral to the decision making process is important to make sure the strategy really has the impact on growth within Kingston that it was meant to, and not solely be an asset for Tourism Kingston.

“I don’t think the entire city’s music scene… every venue, every artist, every recording studio should be working for Tourism,” Howard said.

“I get that Tourism can be a stakeholder in music, and I get that there are advantages to leveraging music as a tourism asset, but I really want to make sure that after all this hard work… that money is put to work to drive that music strategy forward in a very balanced way, not in a way that just serves tourism.”

Howard doesn’t want to see artists, venues, and entire sub-communities at large get left in the dust because they’re not seen as marketable enough through a tourism lens.

He says that he hopes the committee will eventually be made to be a council, and that they won’t just be included in the decision making process for optics.

Their role in any case will be important in advocating for the greater music scene, even beyond their own circles.

“I think the best thing that the committee can do is present to the music office areas of needs and also the level of diversity of Kingston’s music offering so that opportunities aren’t overlooked,” Howard said.

“The kind of music that may not be the most marketable on the outside to tourists, for example, but the kind of music that is intensely important for us to celebrate as a city.”

David Robinson, the owner of Fractal Workspace who also hopes the music strategy can help facilitate some big plans he has for Kingston’s west end, says he thinks the music community needs to continue to be proactive on initiatives without waiting for Tourism Kingston.

He says it’s important for Tourism Kingston to not only focus on musicians and events that will drive tourists into town, but to foster the existing local scene that provide entertainment options to those who call Kingston home.

“There’s economics that exist in local music scenes,” Robinson said.

“There’s a community component, which is healthy for a community, and there’s economics that go with local spending, so it should be both… I think that it [the strategy] checks the boxes of the priorities of improving the Arts and Culture of Kingston and also driving people to come to Kingston for the amazing music scene.”

Call for Applications for Advisory Committee

The city put out the call for letters of interest in joining the advisory board in mid-March, and Demorest says a number of applications have already been received.

There are 15 seats on the board including two venue reps, two artist reps, two community champions, music industry supports from education, post-secondary schools, and media, a Musicians’ Union rep, a music related business, a festival organizer, and a City of Kingston rep from Arts and Culture.

Danika Lochhead, Acting Director of Arts and Culture, says the advisory board’s role will be a big one, essentially acting as a conduit between the city, Tourism Kingston, and their peers.

She says the city anticipates there could be sub-committees formed within groups of like-minded musicians, and there will be opportunities to bring differing viewpoints from the extremely diverse music scene into the conversation.

“The committee itself has a really important role in ensuring that what work comes out of the city and the Music Office are reflective of the Kingston Music Strategy,” Lochhead said.

“The positions on the committee are intended to be connections and conduits from the community to the city and our partners, but there’s also opportunity, I think, to expand how many voices are heard around this table to ensure that we are acknowledging that not everybody can be a part of the committee, not everybody necessarily wants to be part of the committee, but they still want to see benefits coming to them from the Kingston Music Strategy.”

Those interested in being a part of the advisory committee should be ready to commit to bi-monthly meetings that are generally a little over two hours, but also to engage in conversations with their peers to ensure they’re representing the community at large.

For their trouble, advisory committee members (who are not representing a business where they are employed) are expected to receive an honorarium of $100 per meeting.

Letters of interest are being accepted at until this Friday, March 29.