Local arts council spreading its wings

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Okotoks’ rapid growth is prompting an organization dedicated to promoting the arts to spread its wings.

Last month, the Okotoks Arts Council (OAC) more than doubled its board from six to 14 directors, including four new executive members. The group has a broad skill set of professionals among its members.

“We’ve always been conscious of how we need to grow, not only our members but our board as well,” said OAC president Cheryl Taylor. “We identified years ago the need for an expanded skill set on the board. We always had a great group of dedicated artists, but having people who are skilled in the business of art we always thought would be a welcome addition to the board.”

The OAC created a nomination committee to find potential board members to fill its growing needs for a more culturally-oriented community.

“A larger council is able to do more to expand into more events that we could run and promote in the community,” she said. “Having people with backgrounds in legal and business expertise are necessary to bring larger projects and more events together.”

The council was created in 1981 by a group of volunteers, mostly artists, who work in conjunction with the Town of Okotoks to sponsor events such as the Children’s Festival and a concert series at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre.

The council was instrumental in purchasing and renovating both the Okotoks Art Gallery and performing arts centre and is now looking into establishing a larger performing arts venue for the Okotoks area.

Taylor, who has been involved with the OAC on and off for about 15 years, sees potential for the council to grow substantially with a broader range of events.

“It’s a bit of catch up in my opinion,” she said. “We are a community of 30,000 people now. One would expect a larger arts council to service that. We did a great job at what we did, but with only a few people it’s hard as a volunteer group to take on too much.”

Committees will focus on various aspects of the arts council from event planning to increasing its funding base, said Taylor.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the council that we have,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, well-skilled and well-equipped council. We can look forward to some really wonderful things for this community and do our part to help service the arts and culture offerings for everybody.”

Now is a good a time as any to take that step, said Taylor, particularly with the tough economic situation Albertans are currently facing.

“It’s actually more needed than when we’re doing well (economically),” she said. “Arts and culture is what we do to make sense of who we are and what we do and why we’re here.

“Now more than ever it’s interesting with our transition away from fossil fuels in this province we are at a unique turning point where we need to diversify into other business sectors. This industry is one we see market growth potential and for southern Alberta it would be a great thing for tourism and job creation.”

Jody Sanderson, who recently joined the arts council and is in charge of communications, said she felt she could contribute to keeping the arts alive in her community.

“I’ve been involved in the arts my whole life,” she said. “It’s keeping my thumb on the pulse a little bit. I really like that they brought on directors with different skill sets.”

Sanderson said she sees a lot of potential for the OAC moving forward.

“I would like to see the profile of the OAC lifted to become greater and higher in a way that the support of arts groups is elevated,” she said. “I think that it is a diamond in the rough and I don’t know if they’re getting their message out enough or in the right way. We will see how that relationship grows with the artists and performers and writers and all of those people.”

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