Alberta Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer joined Lacombians in experiencing all things cultural in her first official visit to the city during the Lacombe Culture and Harvest Festival this past weekend.
On Sunday, as part of a tour across the province as part of the larger Alberta Culture Days – the umbrella under which the culture and harvest festival falls – Aheer visited the Lacombe Ag Grounds, emphasizing the importance of culture in the community.
“I think sometimes we take for granted the necessity and nature of gathering, and on top of that, gather in the spirit of the things that bring beauty and joy and happiness to our world,” she said, referring to artists, artisans, musicians and all those who contribute to creating that happiness.
“People move into communities for various different things, oil and gas, agriculture – the work – but the things that actually keep you here are what build communities and a lot of that is around culture, multiculturalism and bringing communities together.”
She saw some of what keeps Lacombians in the area first hand, touring Lacombe’s historic downtown on a horse-drawn wagon, walking through the Flatiron Building and speaking with woodworkers, spinners and other artisans at the ag grounds – not to mention singing happy birthday to Lacombe Tourism’s Angel Hand, who does much of the organizing of the festival. Although she didn’t make it to other stops in the community such as the Blacksmith Shop Museum, which was tentatively on the schedule, she did affirm the provincial government’s commitment to arts and culture.
As part of their platform, the UCP pledged to grow cultural industries by 25 per cent, or $1.5 billion, over the next decade. Other initiatives include giving incentives to support media production in rural areas, as well as support the Canadian Artists’ Representation to see the Copyright Act amended so five per cent royalty is paid to visual artists on the resale of their work, in addition to ongoing support for arts and culture in general.
Much of that, she says, will be achieved by getting Alberta’s fiscal house back in order.
“Culture is work. Art is work. These are valuable items that can very easily be exported out of this province. The premier sees that as a wonderful benefit, but not only that, we want people to stay here and so keeping people in our province, working in those jobs, making sure they’re staying here is part of that,” she said. “In order to do that you have to have a healthy economy. A healthy economy is stimulated by people staying in our province and working here. It’s very symbiotic – very, very important.”
En route to growing culture and tourism, she says the provincial government will also look to introduce Status of the Artist legislation, which has already been established in other provinces.
“We will lead by example, at the provincial level, to make sure artists are being paid their value and that we actually honour and illuminate the value that art, culture and all of these things bring to our province,” she said.
She hopes that events such as the culture and harvest festival help elevate an appreciation for arts and culture, not just during Alberta Culture Days, but year round.
A total of 87 communities across the province were given grant funding by the Alberta government for their cultural celebrations and Lacombe was among them, receiving $4,000 to aid in putting on over 50 different cultural-themed activities over the course of three days.
As part of her tour through the province, Aheer took part in lantern and storytelling in Calgary, visiting with the Haitian community and taking in Syrian dancing and Jamaican music in Edmonton, before moving on to the more rural areas including Lacombe.
While chilly temperatures, occasionally accompanied by snow, plagued the entire province, it didn’t deter her, nor many other in the community, from enjoying cultural activities and the gathering of people in celebration.
“My heart is so warm. I’ve just been so touched – I’ve been in tears more times than I can count and I’m not a cryer,” she said. “People are so generous of spirit and time and energy. It’s been really overwhelming.”