Thursday, February 22, 2024

Time to Shatter Some Glass

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Call me a socialist, call me a Utopian idealist, call me whatever you want (we seem to be good at name calling around here lately), but I believe that governing boards made up of citizens to run facilities that are paid for with our tax dollars are not a bad thing.


For the record I am far from a socialist, though to quote Walter Sobchack in The Big Lebowski- “Say what you like about the tenets of national Socialism Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”


It isn’t like governing boards are foreign to our little municipality. The library has one, so too does the museum, even Woodford Community Centre has one, and given that one of the biggest gripes heard on the street is that the administration and operation of Meaford Hall lacks real community input, why not give it a try?


I hear Michael Anderson when he argues that there has been no business case put forward that would support the notion of creating such a board. Anderson is no dummy, and he has years of experience in the field of governance models.


But Billie Bridgman who chaired the Meaford Hall sub-committee for the Community and Cultural Services Task Force is no slouch when it comes to advising how a municipal cultural centre should be run either. Bridgman has spent the last 40 years working within many aspects of Canada’s cultural community including heading up an arms length cultural agency of the City of Toronto for five years.


I’m sure that Anderson wouldn’t disagree that throughout history some of the most successful ventures have been initiated with some pretty flimsy business cases. I know it isn’t how things should be done, and perhaps it is the non-conformist in me, but I think every now and then it is healthy to defy convention and simply take a chance.


With all of the angst that has been caused by the issues surrounding Meaford Hall in recent years, and with all of the perceived failures of this facility, I’d be willing to roll the dice to give something new a try.


So yes, I think it would be a worthwhile exercise to explore the possibility of putting together a board to help run the Hall.


That said, I am not convinced that another recommendation in the Task Force Report of putting together a new foundation whose role would in part be to raise funds for Meaford Hall is necessary. We already have one of ‘them there’ foundations- The Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation, and I think that it would do nothing but cause confusion, and further divide this community if a second foundation were to be formed.


What I would prefer to see is some work done to explore how the current Foundation can be ‘improved’ in such a way that the stigma of being a closed door ‘old boys club’ can be lost, and that there can be a wider scope of participation in the foundation.


Let’s not fool ourselves. Many of the criticisms of the Foundation, and of Meaford Hall itself have little to do with those organizations per se, but have a lot to do with personalities. Hey, we are human, and that is one of our foibles. We have a general propensity to let our emotions get in the way of effective and constructive problem solving.


One of the stated goals of the task force from it’s inception was to help bridge that personality gap and heal old wounds and to bring everyone together from all sides and get them working on the same page.


It seems that it almost got there, and if only someone had stepped in and provided a strong fatherly (or motherly) hand to ensure that no report would be finalized and released until all of the kids learned to play nicely in the sandbox, perhaps we would have one unified report and set of recommendations to consider.


Instead we have two.


Throughout the Task Force report you read the phrase “Do no harm”.


But harm has been done.


Credit must be given to Meaford CAO Frank Miele, as he did his best to ensure that the task force was comprised of equal numbers of residents from all sides of the Meaford Hall issue. But he missed one important step- support.


It isn’t enough though, to have all sides represented if there is no support system in place to ensure that the various points of view can be laid out on the table, respected, considered, debated, and then using those views to find the common ground that lies somewhere in the middle so that the task force could then work from the centre outward to develop an effective strategy that suits everyone.


I’m not saying that they didn’t try to do this. I think they did. And I think that Miele and others would argue vehemently that the support I’m talking about was provided. But they didn’t try hard enough- and the fact that we have a ‘Minority Report’ in my view is evidence of this.


Perhaps day one of the task force sessions should have been spent with some sort of conflict resolution specialist who could have used their expertise to help guide the 20 fine Meaford residents on the task force toward finding common ground, and learning to respect, not vilify differences of opinion.


What has been allowed to happen is that the characterizations of the folks on one side of this issue as being wacky left-wing artsy radicals who are all about ideals, and lack any understanding of brass tacks business practices, and the those on the opposite side of the fence as being hoity-toity establishment types who don’t particularly care about anything other than ruling the roost, have not just been allowed to continue, but have been allowed to flourish during this process.


That is a sad thing for our community.


Sad because there are some fine people on both sides of the Meaford Hall issue. People with skill, experience, and ideas- not to mention a love of and passion for our community, who have been allowed to have their perspective minimized because of a lack of leadership that should have brought these folks together and shown us all that differences of opinion are to be celebrated and explored, not used to demonize one side or another.


So here we are with two segments of our community all wanting the same thing- for Meaford Hall to flourish and be an arts and culture facility that we can all be proud of. Those two groups are standing facing each other from either side of a glass wall that divides them, and until that glass wall is gone, nothing will ever be accomplished that will satisfy either side.


So what can be done?


Well, someone needs to throw a rock at that glass wall to shatter it- and that rock can’t come from any of the folks standing on either side.


I would love to be the one to throw that rock.


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