The times they are a’changin and that’s good news for my hometown of Welland, Ontario especially Downtown, because
that change is being driven by artists, geeks and rockers.
As these creatives move into Downtown Welland, their businesses are contributing to our growth as a creative community.
Author Richard Florida reinforced the importance of creative communities - albeit some 18 years ago - in his book called The Creative Class and research showing that economic growth is powered by artistic and cultural creativity alongside the tech industry, business, and finance.
He concluded that the key indicators of a city’s potential for economic development are no longer industrial parks, office complexes and strip malls which is how growth has typically been measured in the past. Better indicators are instead what Florida summarizes as the real source of economic wealth - creativity.
Ultimately, creative communities are those valued for their authenticity and uniqueness - not their chain stores and chain restaurants. This authenticity has its roots in historic buildings, established neighborhoods, a unique music scene, and specific cultural attributes. As social activist Jane Jacobs once said, "New ideas need old buildings".
The growing number of businesses who are contributing to Welland’s growth as a creative community include artist Cris de Lara, AIH Gallery, children’s writer and award-winning artist Michael Bedard, clay artist Malcolm Gear, and musician and studio owner Cory Cruise. The most recent creatives in Downtown Welland include Toronto transplants Holly Treddenick and her husband Peter Benedetti who recently purchased the old CIBC building at 22 King Street.
Holly is the co-founder of Femmes du Feu, an organization that develops, explores and promotes aerial dance that combines contemporary dance with contemporary circus (think Cirque de Soleil). Her husband Peter is responsible for the apparatus design and build. Their belief that art can inspire, educate, build community, and serve as a catalyst, fuels their focus on performances, mentoring circus artists, strengthening the circus sector, and teaching workshops.
Holly and Peter represent a growing number of creatives who have recognized Downtown Welland as an attractive destination. In addition to affordable real estate, what Welland has that is attracting these business owners are the factors that contribute to quality of life that are important to everyone – friendly people, good schools, low crime rates, diversity, active outdoor recreation such as hiking, cycling, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing, a growing number of unique restaurants, and in their case, knowing that Welland as a designated Francophone community, will mean their two young daughters will have access to french immersion. And, while there is still a need for more cultural opportunities, nightlife activity and street level culture - cafes, bistros, music, galleries, and festivals, the creative ones are clearly front and centre as part of this economic catalyst that is breathing new life into Downtown Welland.