Real Community Conversations

What’s in a name?

Photo Credit: Stacey Newman.
May 24, 2017 – Milton, Canada: The foyer of the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton as seen from the second floor balcony. Photo by Stacey Newman.

The Milton Centre for the Arts is now the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton. When plans for the name change were first announced, there were those in the community who were opposed to the renaming of the Milton Centre for the Arts. Public discussions became heated at times; they included concerns around naming rights being purchasable and what this might mean for the community philosophically. Other concerns were centred on the fear of losing the word Milton from the title. There were comments made at a town council meeting suggesting that companies should not have the ability to plunk their names on our buildings. Perhaps this reaction has more to do with our pride in our community and our need for a sense of ownership. When a corporation seems like a distant entity, faceless and looming, and that corporation seems to be disrupting something which resonates in the community…people can become upset, defensive, and protective…even on issues they previously had little or no stake in.

Dignitaries, members of the arts community, the Town of Milton, and the Community Foundation of Halton North along with other patrons in the community attended an event on May 24 in MinMaxx Hall at the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton. The Every Child, Every Year Milton Arts Program was announced and its logo unveiled. Every Child, Every Year is a free children’s program that will do precisely what its name implies; the program will bring every Milton child in grades 1-8 to the arts centre to experience the arts, each and every year.

“The benefits of exposing children to the arts are well known and I’m delighted that Milton can be a leader in developing partnerships that extend the arts experience and enrich our community,” said Mayor Gord Krantz. “I have always been a strong advocate for children, and I’m very proud that every Milton child will experience the arts through this new initiative.”

FirstOntario Credit Union is the lead donor as part of the sponsorship agreement to support the program and for the naming rights to the arts centre. Carey Smith is the vice chair of the board of directors for FirstOntario Credit Union. Smith took to the microphone to address the crowd at the event and Smith wasn’t about to ignore the elephant in the room. He began his speech by stating that he had thought a lot about what Miltonians had to say about renaming the Milton Centre for the Arts. Smith began by saying that although there is not yet a FirstOntario branch in Milton, that he had gotten to know the Milton community more and more, and that we have an exceptional sense of pride in our community. He said that he understood that this would, of course, fuel debate over renaming an important local building.

Smith’s words seemed off the cuff, coming across as genuine and meaningful. I was attending in my capacity as a photographer, but as a Miltonian, I was moved. I reached out to Smith for additional comments about his speech, and in an effort to get to know a “new neighbour.”

May 24, 2017 – Milton, Canada: Carey Smith of FirstOntario Credit Union speaks to the audience at an event celebrating the launch of the Every Child, Every Year Milton Arts Program. Photo by Stacey Newman.

 

What Carey Smith has to say…

Do you have the full text of your speech Carey?

“I didn’t have a written or prepared speech. I just made my remarks as the moment struck me. As you can tell, I’m passionate about FirstOntario and our funding of programs like the Every Child, Every Year program…Our corporate mission statement includes providing financial services while truly caring about improving the lives of our members and the communities in which they live. We take this mission very seriously. To understand us you need to know that we are much more than a financial institution…we share our profits. When we make decisions at FirstOntario, we always ask ourselves if it will make a difference in the lives our members, and how will it benefit our community?”

What did FirstOntario see in Milton?

“When we first heard of this opportunity, I stopped-by the centre for the arts and looked around for myself. I was amazed at how busy it was, at all times of the day. I saw a steady stream of people using the library, I saw kids upstairs doing artwork, and kids practicing dance in the studio. I already knew Milton had a penchant for the arts, and it seemed to me that as Milton is [one of] the fastest growing towns in the country and FirstOntario is the fastest growing credit union in the country, it just made sense that we would be a good fit, and we could really have an impact by helping to fund this unique program.”

You made a comment to the effect of while seeing the name on a building is nice, that isn’t why we do what we do. What did you mean by this?

“People mistakenly believe that we ‘slap’ the First Ontario name on everything and that we ‘collect’ performing arts centres. This was a criticism levelled at us at the Milton council meeting. This is not the case; we fund programs that will benefit the community…the FirstOntario Performing arts Centre in St. Catharines, the FirstOntario Concert Hall and FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton…we own none of these venues, but our funding provides for enhanced programming in these communities. We realize that arts and culture can largely define the soul of a community, but unfortunately, they’ve often taken a back seat in terms of funding. We try to fill this void.”

You expressed a great deal of empathy in your speech towards the Milton community. I was moved, as a Miltonian. You talk about being real people, proud of giving back to Cana dian communities. How did it feel to receive some opposition?

“As far as the opposition that we received from some voices in the community, I was initially taken-aback at the town council meeting. (As I said [in the speech], I’ve never had so much difficulty giving away $1 million.) But as I stepped back, I realized that those voices were speaking from a position of passion and caring; of being concerned that their symbol of community (and volunteerism and sweat-equity) wasn’t being taken over by some corporate juggernaut that had no particular stake in their town. A town with that kind of passion is exactly where FirstOntario wants to be.”
Thank you again to Carey Smith for taking so much time to connect with the Milton community and for answering our questions. So, who’s our new neighbour?

Read more about FirstOntario’s history in Canada over the last 75 years here!