Library, Festival of Words, Cultural Center discuss activities during budget meeting

The Moose Jaw Express highlights the presentations that the library, Festival of Words and Cultural Center gave during council’s Nov. 22 budget meetings.

Moose Jaw wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t have a library or a vibrant arts and culture scene, but such activities need funding so residents and visitors can continue to enjoy them.

Fifteen third-party community groups gave presentations during city council’s first 2023 budget meeting on Nov. 22, including the library, the Festival of Words and the cultural centre.

The Moose Jaw Express highlights those presentations.

Public library

In-person visits and circulation of materials at the Moose Jaw Public Library returned to near pre-pandemic levels by the summer, while the overall situation began to look normal again, said head librarian Gwen Fisher.

The organization provided different literacy materials to children, youths and adults, while it added more literature in different languages ​​— such as Chinese, Arabic, Filipino, Persian and Ukrainian — thanks to a provincial grant.

The provincial library association selected Moose Jaw as a pilot project site for a dyslexia program for children and youth. Dyslexia, Fisher explained, is a most common learning difficulty, with six per cent to 17 per cent of people affected.

“From personal experience, you might know how difficult it is to develop a love for learning if it’s challenging to do so, so this dyslexia-friendly collection is dedicated to serving those people and trying to spark a love of reading and learning at a young age,” she said.

Besides being a community hub, the library is also on the front lines of Moose Jaw’s growing social issues, Fisher continued.

The library faced difficult and complex problems this year, so it committed to addressing them by having staff take training in areas like First Aid, Mental Health First Aid, reconciliation and trauma-informed care. It also worked with the John Howard Society and engaged with commissioners.

While she didn’t have exact figures, Fisher added that visitor numbers were similar to the five-year average as patrons slowly returned to the building.

“Your presentation highlights the fact that the Moose Jaw Public Library is so much more than just a library…,” said Coun. Heather Eby. “I really do believe that the pandemic (shone) a spotlight on the library more than ever because so many people relied on it … so maybe that was a silver lining in a dark cloud.”

Festival of Words

Sarah Simison, acting artistic director of the Festival of Words, highlighted the organization’s three main services: community outreach, youths and the summer festival.

Year-round, the group has the Performer’s Café, writers-in-schools program, CineView, fundraisers, public readings, film screenings, speakers and public events.

The summer festival features 60 events over four days, including the teen writing experience, kids’ ink workshop, children’s story time, writing workshops, book clubs, reading sessions, film screenings and concerts. Most events, she said, occur within the Mae Wilson theater, “the gem of our city.”

The festival also generates over $100,000 in economic spinoff locally since it attracts over 500 people, while it spends roughly $200,000 locally on goods and services, enhances literacy, builds lifelong learning and adds to the community’s social fabric.

“One of the programs we’re proudest of is writers in schools. This program reaches thousands of children per year…,” said Simison about the free initiative.

“After our writer visited his classroom, one Moose Jaw teacher stated, ‘Disengaged writers wrote, reluctant speakers spoke and students who were facing tough, personal times found a voice, a vehicle to truly express themselves. Not only do I think this program is valuable, I think it is necessary.’”

The festival annually operates on a balanced budget — between $250,000 and $300,000 — with zero debt, she said. Federal grants have contributed to a balanced ledger.

This year, the organization faced several challenges because of the pandemic, such as authors and artists canceling or rebooking, flight cancellations and attempting to offer a fulfilling in-person/online event.

“Despite (these challenges), we’ve managed to maintain an optimism as we focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t and look towards the future as an opportunity to experiment and try new things,” Simison said, adding the organization is already booking authors for its 27th annual festival.

Coun. Crystal Froese praised the festival, saying, “It always blows my mind with how much the Festival of Words does. It’s so much more than just our city. The effect you’ve had on literacy with kids just can’t go unnoticed. It’s a diverse festival and we’re lucky to have the head office here.”

Cultural Centre

The Mae Wilson Theater is a gem and cultural hub that offers many events, said Simison, the cultural center’s executive director. It reflects the area’s cultural needs and provides a destination for artists and residents to enjoy many experiences.

Simison highlighted how important the venue is, pointing to its art gallery; the space it has for groups such as the Festival of Words, pottery groups, Moose Jaw Pride and the local Aboriginal group; its annual partnerships with the festival and gamers association; and being the new home of a theater company.

It’s also a location where filmmakers can shoot their projects, as two community directors did recently.

The center hosted 200 events, meetings and programs this year while several shows sold out, said Simison. While it’s exciting that the center sold 15,000 tickets, staff faced major burnout, so the organization hired a curator to reduce the number of shows and maximize audience numbers.

Simison wants to diversify the cultural center’s revenue streams — especially with a recession looming — by pursuing more arts grants to help expand community programs, fill the building’s empty rooms with new artists and host more workshops.

She also wants to pursue several building and equipment upgrades.

“I don’t think the Moose Jaw Cultural Center has realized its full potential yet,” Simison added, “and I hope to be able to build it into something new.”

The next budget meeting is Wednesday, Nov. 30.

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