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Why public policy is key to survival of Halifax music venues

TEDx speaker Jeffry Haggett says the Halifax music scene is at critical juncture

4 min read
caption Jeffrey Haggett gives a TEDx Talk on how music shapes Halifax.
Leah Woolley
caption Jeffry Haggett gives a TEDx Talk on Sunday on how music shapes Halifax.
Leah Woolley

Jeffry Haggett used his 17 minutes in the spotlight Sunday to tell people that music venues in Halifax are critical, and need protection.

Haggett is an urban planner and developer interested in the effects of music on city development. He spoke about how music shapes Halifax at a TEDx Talk event at NSCAD University.

He said his research has consistently shown that music is an important factor in attracting young people to Halifax.

“People feel encouraged by it, connected to it,” said Haggett during his TEDx Talk. “They’re inspired by the social network it creates.”

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Haggett has been researching Halifax’s music scene since 2009. He has published city comparisons, participated in cultural planning workshops with the Nova Scotia government and has worked with the Innovations Systems Research Network to survey why those in creative industries come to Halifax.

He said Halifax is a “Music City.” Music Canada, a non-profit music advocate group, defines it as a city with a vibrant music economy that is supportive of the community.

But, he said, that music scene is sometimes taken for granted.

“This city is at a critical juncture,” he said in an interview. “It’s not unusual for a venue to close because of noise complaints or (have) access issues caused by newly constructed buildings.”

He mentioned a report by Music Canada that states “government policies can have a direct impact on the ability of music businesses such as live performance venues, recording studios and rehearsal spaces to operate sustainably.”

‘Where are we going to go?’

Buck Tingley is a traditional blues musician who has been involved in Halifax’s music scene for over 10 years. He is a frequent performer at Bearly’s House of Blues, and said it’s the No. 1 venue keeping music alive in Halifax.

The land it is on has been sold to John Ghosn, owner of ENQORE Developments. The company’s website says rebuild plans for Bearly’s are “coming soon.”

“One of the strongest live music venues in the city and it’s at risk from city development,” said Tingley.

Bearly’s is still going strong, but Tingley is uncertain about the future.

“When it is torn down, where are we going to go? Then there’s really not going to be enough places to play,” he said.

He’s also seen venues, like the Timber Lounge, that have had to stop playing live music due to noise complaints. If there had been a policy in place that protected venues, he said the Timber Lounge would still be hiring bands.

Steven Baur, an associate professor of music at Dalhousie University, said municipal planners don’t factor music venues into their construction planning.

“Musically, the scene is incredibly healthy. Economically, it’s not in great shape,” he said.

Baur said about a dozen clubs have closed down since he came to Halifax in 2003. As a band member himself, he said it’s getting harder for bands to book gigs in Halifax.

How can Halifax protect music venues?

Deputy Mayor Waye Mason said the Halifax Regional Municipality is developing a policy to protect venues on Argyle Street from after-hours noise bylaws.

Mason said a report will be released to the Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee next month. It should identify what will make Halifax a better supporter of local music.

“We’re looking at things like having local music play when you call the city and you’re on hold, and playing local music at local outdoor rinks and the Oval,” he said.

Haggett said he’d like to see the municipality add a dedicated music representative to planning bodies to make sure music is considered in policy-making decisions. He also hopes more thought will be given to using community spaces as all-age venues.

“We need positive music policies in our city,” said Haggett. “If we aren’t careful with our venues; we could lose them.”

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  1. L

    Lukas Pearse

    These are all good points, and Halifax is very much a music city. But additional to changing bylaws to support liscenced venues, the city should be supporting unlisceced venues to support music for everyone. It should be supporting music as public art as well as music as business.
    • A

      Angel Moore

      Thank you Lucas for taking the time to comment.
  2. D

    Dr Marian Walsh

    Getting the suggestions for a music venue to the people in Halifax should strengthen the venue's hope to survive. I enjoyed the article.
    • T

      Tunde Balogun

      Thank you for your comment
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