Many local issues are being discussed in this election, but Ottawa’s vibrant arts and culture scene doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. That’s a shame, because Ottawa is a heavy hitter in supporting a strong cultural sector. However, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the city’s arts scene, and it will take many years to rebound.
The Ottawa Cultural Alliance and Apartment613 are just two of many organizations devoted to fostering Ottawa’s arts and cultural scene. We jointly developed a candidate questionnaire and are publishing all the response we receive prior to Election Day on September 20. Sean Devine, NDP candidate for Nepean, was one of those who took the opportunity to respond. Check out the other candidate responses here.
What are your roots in the riding where you are running for office, and how have you been involved in the community?
I moved here to Nepean in 2014, but I’ve been a practising theatre/film artist for much of the past 30 years. I’m a playwright, and my show DAISY was onstage at Ottawa’s GCTC when COVID shut it down. I also ran my own professional theatre company for many years, and have produced a decade’s worth of music/dance festivals. More recently, my current job is as a program officer for Canada’s largest arms-length public funding arts council. One of my favourite aspects of that job is doing outreach with artists across the country as I help support them and their artistic objectives. So I am not only well aware of Ottawa’s vibrant arts scene, but I’m a member of the community, and a strong advocate.
On the non-artist side of things, I’ve been a very active community leader where I live in Trend-Arlington. Most critically, I helped to lead and organize our community’s recovery from the 2018 tornado. For that work, I was awarded the United Way’s Community Builder of the Year Award and the Mayor of Ottawa’s City Builder Award.
Why should our readers vote for you?
Artists will feel well-supported by having an artist on their side in Parliament. Aside from the fact that I’m deeply invested in the health of our local and national arts communities, I’m really passionate about community engagement and partnership development. The arts community would have a really good ally in me. Plus, I’m a pretty accessible and down-to-earth individual.
Cultural resources such as festivals, museums, and galleries play a critical role in the mental health of Ottawans. In fact, seven in 10 residents think cultural venues are important to mental health and well-being. They are places where our most vulnerable citizens can make social connections and be stimulated. Culture is arguably more important than ever as our economy and communities recover from the pandemic. What role do you see culture playing in the city’s reopening and recovery?
Culture plays an absolutely vital role! And in so many wonderful ways. Not only will the arts community provide much-needed opportunities to get out and enjoy and experience life’s many perspectives and insights after almost two years of stifling isolation, but artists are perfectly suited to come up with the innovative new ways in which we can engage with each other in this new reality. Whether our person-to-person engagements take place in-person, online, beside the river, in a box, in digital or in tangible form, it’s going to be creative artists who use this opportunity to re-conceive how we experience what it is to witness humanity.
What specific investments will you support to assist and grow Ottawa’s cultural sector?
From my work in arts funding, I’ve seen the benefits to the entire sector that have come over the past five years of significantly increased federal funding of the arts sector. I truly hope that this sense of invigorated investment in the cultural sector continues post-COVID. If I were to be elected to Parliament, I would do whatever I can to be a fierce advocate for that at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. One element of the NDP’s platform that I’m particularly excited about is our commitment to the arts as having a vital place in reconciliation. A New Democrat government will provide financial support for Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre as part of our larger efforts to honour and support Indigenous arts and culture.