Today we have a great guest post by Regina dancer, choreographer, and downtown resident Johanna Bundon. Johanna provides her thoughts on the ‘Profs in the Park’ issue and highlights the need for continued dialogue moving forward.
Like many others who were looking forward to sitting in Victoria Park while taking in a lecture, I am disappointed that ‘Profs in Park’, a collaboration between the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and the University of Regina Arts Faculty never got a chance to breathe life into our dear city centre.
For those who may not be aware, complaints by city administrators about the content of one lecture prompted the BID to cancel it outright. The Arts Faculty responded by cancelling the lecture series all together, a move supported by the other professors scheduled to talk. Though the cancellation of the series is discouraging, what I find most disheartening is that the Regina Downtown BID chose such an unimaginative course of action when met with conflict — the BID’s method to resolve it was scrutiny, then to withdraw their support from the lecture series. This seems a clumsy action that has led to all sorts of ruckus in the community, especially when more graceful methodologies, like dialogue and listening, are so readily available.
But let’s be generous. We are all flawed. And as is the case with all of us bumbling humans, we engage behaviour that is the most habitual to us; preferring patterns of habit that are well-worn-tried-and-true. To explore behaviour outside these grooves demands a small dose of imagination, but the finicky thing about Imagination — like its cousin Creativity and mother Thought– is that it cannot thrive in an environment of fear.
If it is bold to suggest that the BID is plagued by a strong sentiment of fear, it is certainly generous to say that it is also afflicted with a minor case of social anxiety. After all, the organization seems gutsy enough to publish the following ”vision” on Page 4 of its 2010-12 Strategic Plan:
”Regina Downtown will support the creation of a complete and sustainable downtown neighbourhood, where entrepreneurship and cultural vitality flourish, and a diverse community of people thrive in an active, safe, accessible, inclusive, and beautiful public realm.”
Yet, when met with an opportunity to invite cultural activity, diversity of opinions, and active community engagement into the sphere of Victoria Park, the BID lost its gumption. Their vision statement, not unlike the City of Regina’s 2020 vision which professes a hope that Regina will be ”Canada’s most vibrant, inclusive, attractive, sustainable community, where people live in harmony and thrive in opportunity” are lofty ambitions. However, they are by no means unattainable landmarks for this wonderful city.
I personally have an affinity for visions. They are necessary structures that reference the realm of impressions and insights– things that we see in our minds before we manifest them in the material world. Vision speaks to a spirit of potential and growth but it is no substitute for action.
It was Neil Macdonald who was hired as a program coordinator for the BID. He dreamt up the ‘Profs in the Park’ lecture series and one must give Neil an earnest nod of approval for his project – it was skillful on several levels. ‘Profs in the Park’ was a wonderful engagement of public space, a reclamation of the City Square as an arena for sharing information, and a thoughtful initiative that allowed an exchange between the Regina Downtown community and the University campus; two sometimes competing nuclei within our urban centre. The lecture series was rich with potential. So while congratulations are due to the BID for hiring Neil (who has since resigned due to this kerfuffle) and initially supporting this program, the failure to put their weight behind a project designed to enhance our city centre is questionable.
Perhaps the Regina Downtown BID simply has a very different definition of cultural diversity than I do. If this is the case, I would love for this bureau to offer more insight around their vision. A dialogue would be a nice place to start. Let’s talk BID. What does ”cultural vitality” mean to you? Friend, what does it look like?
I’ve been excited to see how the community is engaging this predicament. Though ‘Profs in the Park’ is not quite ready to take shape in its initially imagined form, Neutral Ground Artist-Run Centre (1822 Scarth Street) has stepped in as a hero of sorts. They are hosting the lecture series ‘Profs in the City’ including the lecture by Emily Eaton that was intended to be heard in Victoria Park last week. There are a whole group of people riled up to do some learning together in Regina’s downtown and though that impulse was interrupted, it still appears to be strong.
Right now it is important how we as citizens, administrators, and leaders respond and move forward from this point. Let’s not stop the discussion of what makes our city, and city centre, diverse, welcoming, open and engaging. Here’s hoping that the spirit of dialogue and openness can continue and that the BID and City administrators will choose to engage with us and see it as an important part of the ongoing revitalization process.
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