The Investment Readiness Program was created by the Government of Canada. As the Government of Canada explains: “The Investment Readiness Program (IRP) is a 2-year $50 million pilot program designed to help advance Social Innovation and Social Finance (SI/SF) in Canada by building on existing supports to help catalyze community-led solutions to persistent social and environmental challenges. The pilot will provide a learning opportunity to inform future direction on how best to support and mobilize the social finance sector.” Learn more here.
This blog series by the Trico Charitable Foundation showcases updates by successful IRP grant recipients who reside in Alberta. The goal of this series is to help inspire, inform, and nurture the ability of social entrepreneurship to close the gaps in Canadian society.
Located in the heart of Fort McMurray’s arts district, Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) is a non-profit society and charitable organization that supports the growth and success of the arts. It was established to raise the profile of the arts in their region and to support all facets of the arts community.
ACWB offers a variety of services and events that: build the capacity of their local artists to compete and thrive; enable collaborations between artists, arts organizations, non-profits, and industry; and advocate for their region’s arts municipally, provincially and federally.
Liana Wheeldon, Executive Director of ACWB, explains what their IRP funding was used towards:
“The funding ACWB received from IRP was used for a Feasibility Study to determine if a property in the downtown core of Fort McMurray could be purchased, turned into an arts incubator, and run as a social enterprise, providing sustainability for the incubator and for Arts Council.”
Liana explains their biggest learnings:
“Through the IRP we learned many things about social enterprise operations, probably most importantly where to find the resources needed to ensure success. The feasibility study we commissioned benchmarked our project against other successful creative space social enterprise models and provided a thorough S.W.O.T. analysis, identifying potential risks to our organization in undertaking the project.”
Liana expresses that they have also learned perseverance and resilience throughout this entire process:
“Our biggest challenge has been finding funding during the continued economic downturn, a global pandemic, and one-in-100-year flooding of the downtown, following the Horse River Wildfire four years earlier, which caused the evacuation of the entire population of Fort McMurray. While the property in question was unaffected by the flood, this catastrophic flooding has pulled financial resources away from cultural infrastructure projects. Despite this, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor and Council unanimously voted to fund 1/3 of the projected project budget as they see ACWB’s arts incubator as a catalyst project for the revitalization of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo’s downtown area, an identified priority of municipal Council.”
Looking to future, ACWB has many exciting things on the horizon. Liana says:
“In December 2022, ACWB took possession of the property and hired GEC Architects to create the design draft for the retrofit of the property. The design has been submitted to a costing consultant for a more accurate accounting of costs and we continue to seek funds for completion of the project through fundraising, donations, sponsorship, and grants. The project will be undertaken in phases to ensure our organization does not incur any debt. Our goal is to be open to the public before the end of 2024, or first quarter of 2025 latest, funding dependent, of course.”