Brantford, my hometown and current city of residence, has been playing a game of 'make the landmarks disappear' in its downtown. I've made my feelings about that rather clear here and here. The subtraction of downtown places continued this week when a non profit venue known as the Ford Plant, which hosted indie bands and art shows, officially announced it will be closing its doors. This is yet another major blow for the downtown and a very sad loss, but unfortunately, one that most Brantfordians will be largely unaware of.
The farewell letter by the founders of the Ford Plant gave the impression that they just felt it was the right time to close their doors and they don't put any form of blame on anyone. I do believe it could have been avoided. In their letter, they mention how they were able to keep the venue running for 8 years despite no outside capital or funds, and little support besides those who attended the shows. There were many who felt the Ford Plant would quickly fail, and rather than try to make sure that didn't happen, the doubters just watched on the sidelines for the potential train wreck. The wreck never happened and the Ford Plant was a fair success for 8 years which had many fantastic Canadian acts pass through its doors. The place was a fantastic showcase and opportunity for countless rock, punk and alternative bands, as well as several fledgling artists.
The real tragedy is the obliviousness demonstrated by those in power in Brantford. Much like how they thumbed their nose at history by allowing the destruction of historical landmarks in the downtown, they turned the other way to a venue promoting arts and music. I realize those running the Ford Plant have families and jobs and responsibilities, and thus the longer time passed, the harder it was to keep the Ford Plant running, especially when the funds were completely coming from the small shows or their pockets. It may have been inevitable the Ford Plant would close down one day, but if circumstances were different, I don't believe that time would have been now. If the city truly recognized how important the Ford Plants was, then they would have stepped in with support years ago. They would have recognized the importance that the Ford Plant continued to grow and be successful.
These last few months have shown that some of those in power in Brantford are not completely in touch with what creates a vibrant and healthy city. As stated before, Brantford was quick to see no value in the buildings on Colborne and quickly wanted to do away with them. They saw no value in keeping the histories and stories those buildings brought. Many within Brantford are still obsessed with finding the next big business to occupy spaces downtown, with the hopes that will draw people back and create a revenue stream for the city. There is this obsession that Brantford needs to find the next big store that will drive business. But I think such desires are completely misguided and will only harm Brantford further. What Brantford needs is more places like the Ford Plant or at least, keep those places alive.
A major way for a city to gain funds and create jobs is to have a booming tourist industry. A city is not going to bring in tourists with a Best Buy or Bulk Barn (though my wife may argue the latter). Tourists are attracted to communities and cities that have a thriving culture and arts. People will come to see unique festivals or exciting shows or vibrant atmosphere. People are drawn to cities that have a distinct quality and feel. This is usually brought about through culture and art. Because it is the culture and arts that are the heart and soul of a city.
I am not saying that Brantford is completely barren of any arts or culture. They have the Harmony Square which is a magnificent and beautiful location. It will be the host to a huge Jazz Festival next weekend. Things like the Jazz Festival, which the past two years have brought in people from all over Southern Ontario and Toronto, are just proof that this is what will spur true business and growth in the city.
Really, it isn't even just about money. It is art and culture that makes a city alive and colourful. Arts and culture capture people's emotions and feelings and beliefs and hopes and dreams. It is these things that help bring a community together. It is these things that help inspire and uplift people.
On a bigger scale, look at some of the greatest empires and civilizations of all time. Almost all of them had a powerful and thriving arts and culture. It really is a driving force behind a growing community. It allows a place to have an identity and a form of expression.
The Ford Plant was a place where many artists and musicians had an opportunity to express themselves. It was a place for others to even be inspired. A young person could walk in and be impacted by the band they saw that night. It could be the spark to create their own love and passion for music. It would allow for the constant fostering of culture and art among several people, because passion for great art is infectious. It allows many to be encouraged to express themselves through their talents and passions.
I am a firm believer that culture and art is a powerful tool. It can heal a broken heart. It can make a person powerful beyond belief by influencing many around them. It can make you laugh or cry or cheer or reflect. It can touch each person in a different but profound way. Even more importantly, it can impact an entire community by giving it a heart and soul.
This is why the loss of the Ford Plant is a tragic thing. Brantford loses yet another landmark that could have positively defined it. It was a place where young people could experience a variety of music and arts. It allowed them to leave their American Idol and Guitar Hero, and experience another form of our culture.
I also know that the city of Brantford is full of talented artists. I know there are many that want Brantford to grow and improve. Even though we say bye to yet another important landmark, hopefully, this loss will created the opportunity for more great institutions for art and culture to replace it.