Community website to launch new design

Apt613, a local not-for-profit blog covering city arts and culture events, released a redesigned logo and website on March 17 and will be launching an online platform to teach citizen journalism this summer.

The new website was produced in order to create a refreshing look for the blog, says François Levesque, co-founder of Apt613.

“This website served us well but we could do a lot better. And particularly on the mobile side, our other site wasn’t that mobile friendly,” he says.

With funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Apt613 has grown in the last seven years to become a key platform to promote and report on local community events.

Since 2013, the blog has received a grant from the OTF of $86,500 spread out over a three-year period.

The OTF, a Government of Ontario agency, is Canada’s largest granting foundation and awards grants to about 1,000 non-profit and charitable organizations each year.

The OTF grant has gone towards re-developing the site and starting a new section of the blog.

The new section will have videos and podcasts dedicated to teaching users about how to get a start in citizen journalism and mobile photography with all of the online tools now available.

The OTF, says Jean-Paul Gagnon, program manager at the foundation, funds a number of different sectors.

“We give grants in various areas: social services, arts and culture, sports and leisure — there’s a great canopy of grants that are given,” says Gagnon.

One of the reasons the OTF funded Apt613 was because the blog was generating community reporters, he says.

“They were training people who might not necessarily be connected to the blogging and writing world, (and) this provided the opportunity for people to do this kind of thing,” he said.

It was also important that the blog provided coverage of lesser-known events.

“It provided an additional platform for the publicity and the promotion of cultural events that don’t necessarily get covered by the mainstream,” Gagnon says. 

Established in 2009, the blog’s goal was always to put non-mainstream events on display, says Levesque.

“Our mandate when we started seven years ago was to discover and showcase the smaller events going on in the city that might not be capturing the attention of the Ottawa Citizen or Metro Ottawa,” he says.

Since then, Levesque says he has seen the arts community change in the city.

“Generally, the arts and culture scene in the city, I think, in the last five years or so, has flourished quite a bit.”

But it hasn’t been always been smooth sailing.

“It has had its ups and downs, where some venues have closed but others have opened up,” Levesque says.

Raw Sugar Café, a space that housed live performances in the city, recently closed down. But Levesque says a similar venue may revitalize the space.

Some smaller events also have trouble getting enough people out to attend them, Levesque adds.

“I’m not sure if the audience is always there,” Levesque says. “We need to make sure that we support those artists, not just in a financial basis but by showing up and showing support.”

But as the city gears up for Ottawa 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, a spotlight has been put on the arts, notes Levesque. 

“Following Ottawa 2017,” he says, “I think we’ll have institutions like the Arts Court that will be more revamped and new,” he says, referring to the major redevelopment of the gallery and arts hub near the University of Ottawa.

But whether or not arts funding and renovations will continue once the celebrations end is a question those in the community are wondering about.

“While everyone’s quite excited for the potential for next year, people are a little worried for years after that,” Levesque says.

In the federal budget released March 23 however, major institutions in the city such as the National Arts Centre and the Canada Science and Technology Museum received major funding for renovations and repairs. The National Art Gallery also received increased funding, though on a smaller scale. 

Ottawa is a growing arts and culture hub, with a mentality that just needs to change, Levesque says. 

“If we can just get beyond ‘Ottawa’s just a boring government town,’ we’ll be just the better for it,” Levesque says. “I think there’s something exciting going on every weekend.”