5 Real honest and good actions to build a relationship to your community: Philanthropy for the modern age #WRArts #WRHealth #WRAwesome

I have been thinking about another response to Michael Litt and the tech sector leaders, and not just one that explains why arts are the way they are but goes beyond into how we can fix real issues in the community.

My partner asked at a dinner party to “name me ten important business people from the 18th-19th centuries” – and we could name a few. All were white, all were men. But also, all were philanthropists. Several, I struggled to name what they did as a business leader, but I could remember them for their support of culture. Carnegie and his libraries, Rothschilds and their arts, Guggenheim and the museum. They all gave back in massive measure setting up some of the most important cultural institutions in the world, with several entirely changing the tide of literacy and culture forever. The obvious point of this exercise is also that that we could only name a few business people, but literally hundreds of artists and culture makers. And the business people we could name were because their contributions to the world extended well beyond their crumbling offices.

There is a funny bit of irony here: We had one of the most important scientists of the 20th-21st centuries living here in Waterloo Region, and I cannot for the life of me think of anyone outside of Waterloo who knows the story of this. Even most residents here have no idea that the top floor penthouse on Princess on Waterloo, above Loloan Lobbby Bar was home to Stephen Hawking… The time to support the arts is long, long overdue. What a critical lapse in telling the story of our community.

I touched on it just a bit in my last several paragraphs on supporting the arts directly. But there is so much one can do.

1 – Support the Working Centre

Few organisations have more direct impact on our civic core than the Working Centre. With multiple locations and a full suite of services that directly assist all members of the community, there is hardly a Waterloo Region home-built and maintained service that touches more community members than this. From poverty relief and street level advocacy and aid, to excellent food and cafes, and even a sophisticated storytelling unit in Commons Studio which also serves as a film equipment rental for working artists and creatives in film, The Working Centre has a bit of something for just about everyone. We even enjoy a cleaner downtown because of programmes devised by the Working Centre that pay folk a few hours to sweep the streets several times per week. There are co-working studios, a small film studio, community kitchens, thrift stores, training programmes, settlement programmes, affordable housing, tax filing assistance, neighbourhood programmes, community supported agriculture – in the city, job counselling and work support, bicycle recycling… Their programmes and outreach are darn near endless and the good they do is uncountable.

2 – Give directly to hospitals, care centres, but also community outreach.

There are cancer hospices, palliative care institutions, treatment centres, cardiac centres, and many health related charities that need a bump. They exist and are fantastic here with many people finding themselves better cared for in our small community, connected to their families and their doctors’ practices locally. But all of these need financial support beyond government.

Check out the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network.

There are hundreds of health related charities in Waterloo Region. These include ACCKWA – a charity working entirely around blood born and sexually transmitted infections. SPECTRUM, OK2BME and Plan B Cooperative KW – charities and not for profits organised around the holistic health of sexual and gender diverse people. There are homes for the care of young mothers who have found themselves without supports in their families and communities, there are places that directly support women’s health, trans health, and several initiatives around the health and well being of immigrants and refuges, and people who get targeted with hate crimes. There are Indigenous outreach centres that are critically and chronically starved of resources, lost in the shuffle between layers of bureaucracy who could deeply use an infusion of philanthropic funding. Find something to care about in health, and contribute. Definitely add your funds to their pots, but also find a way to speak about what they do when talking about the strength and diversity of our community.

3 – Support arts organisations, use your voice to get behind their bricks and mortar.

I mentioned in passing that the Kitchener Aud is a budget line building. Parks and recreation and several other departments at the city and municipal levels in Waterloo Region maintain buildings and programmes at auditoriums and pools, and in many other great places in the region. This makes sense. These are city-owned assets representing the homes of cultural gems – like the OHL Rangers.

Did you know that the cities and region largely own most of the cultural institutions as well? Unlike auditoriums and recreations centres, these are not budget line. These institutions have to individually fundraise to repair a leak in the roof, and the entirety of the staff comes out of operational budgets. These are supported from a variety of places. But one thing also rings true – when it comes time to make decisions on cultural funding, a large – extremely large piece of cultural funding goes to operation of these city-owned properties instead of the artists and culture makers. Having these buildings and their operations become budget line would allow the organisations to “up-level” (power up? level up? insert an action sounding term here) their programming and support of community initiative.

In a good circumstance, cultural institutions serve as pillars of a cultural community. They not only support the cultural needs of their communities by providing excellent programming (as ours currently do) but have a positive outreach into a community that then can foster programming, arts and culture existing elsewhere. Strong public galleries make for cities that can home strong private galleries. And the infusion of all of these can make a scene. Same with music houses and large concert halls. Music lovers will go to large shows, but music lovers also support the strong current of new music seen in small, private venues.

As a short list: THEMUSEUM, Centre in the Square, Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, IdeaExchange, Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, Homer Watson House and Gallery, Button Factory Arts, and others all need support around their buildings. Advocating for these to be supported as the locational gems that exist is a start. The little theatres in Waterloo Region are home to excellent community creation for those who want to be involved in the deeper processes of amateur creation (and don’t be fooled by the word “amateur” here – which bespeaks more the collaboration of community way over any lack of proficiency and excellence in their theatric output – many of these productions can stand with some of the best theatre companies in quality).  Another one not to be forgotten is the ever beloved Registry Theatre with their fantastic business model. However, if the Registry needed a new roof, this would be a separate fundraising initiative. Libraries also serve as cultural underpinning for everything from the arts, to literacy. The connections they have to community are deeper than a home for books – with poverty relief, places for engagement, or necessary detachment. All of these need support, and the young community concerned should include them within their philanthropy.

Also support the development of more. We desperately need another theatre space with the Registry packed to the gills with success. We need more studios for artists, and storage for completed works. We are desperate for jam halls that are safe, secure, and are clean enough for real working musicians. When a call comes up for community support, you should be among the numbers clambering for more accessible, and downtown spaces for these practices. This is how you will have a safe, active, and diverse downtown.

4 – Support arts organisations and festivals

The buildings host programming and their day to day constant areas of culture. Sometimes these host organisations such as the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony, the Grand Philharmonic Choir, and a veritable cluster of smaller but stunning music initiatives. They also play host to the multiple theatre and music creation and production companies located here, and many, many of these have toured the world, been featured as some of the best theatre in the country in festival and have created festivals to showcase their work and the international best of the best in emerging contemporary work. Look at IMPACT, Kultrun, CAFKA, Open Ears, NUMUS for a small taste of the world come to Waterloo Region.

Also here are several ad hoc and organised collectives who build shows based on fair remuneration to artists, or cooperative efforts around generating sales. Notably, these include Collective Identity (link opens to Facebook page), The Art District Gallery, Uptown Gallery Waterloo, Kitchener Waterloo Society of Artists, KW Artists Co op, Globe Studios and many others that you can find once you descend down the rabbit hole of amazing initiative.

The festivals need direct fundraising support in the form of corporations, businesses, and companies giving back to the community and its stories. Many of these have been stripped down to barebones in the past 6 years, which is stunning because they were lean machines well before. Some of the collectives need funds to be able to pay artists for the loans of their work. Others just really need people to attend shows and purchase pieces displayed.  All need you – the philanthropist community to attend and talk about their work.

5 – Give to the United Way.

I know I sound pretty old fashioned in this one, but the United Way has a laundry list of vetted and important charities ranging from poverty alleviation to education, to neighbourhood support programmes. One of the distinct challenges in Waterloo Region is that neighbourhoods are stated as being dull and lacklustre. This isn’t without whole existing organisations trying to make a difference. But a difference requires investment of time and money. The United Way is hands on, neck deep in to what the community needs and has stringent requirements around their support. No need to reinvent the wheel with this one… the United Way has decades of doing what they do, and doing it well.


If you really care about our community, about “attracting talent” – then care about the health of the community that lives here. If you think that areas are underserved and you have a platform of publication like the Globe and Mail, instead of delineating our weaknesses, tell people how they can build better communities for themselves and others. Waterloo Region may have one blight that rises above the rest: we are becoming known as a communities that don’t care. We are seen as a civic area that continually fails women and minorities, that continues to underperform in culture, and that lacks a diversity of places where people can enter and participate into a civic life that matters. Use your public platforms for good. Start building a new generation of Guggenheims.