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London is Canada’s first UNESCO City of Music

Photo of a band playing music on stage
Image Credit: Brendan Beamish

London, Ont. is officially Canada’s first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) City of Music. Nov. 8, 2021 marked the day that the designation was announced and Cory Crossman, London’s first-ever Music Industry Development Officer, said a lot of work went into it.

“Going after a title like this was a key part of our music strategy, helping build and define our identity,” said Crossman.  “London has an incredible music community and has deep roots in music for decades and decades and decades and this designation is certainly a nod to that.”

The process really started in 2014 before Crossman was hired. A music strategy was created because of London’s roots and brought together a 25 member task team that worked to raise the profile of London and grow the music sector.

“A large part of us being a music hub is the fact that we have over 1000 music students to study at post-secondary schools...”

 “In 2015, I took on the role as the Music Industry Development Officer, the second in Canada. My role is to implement the London Music Strategy. By 2016, we hosted the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMAs) for the first time, which was a massive event for us to host. We also hosted a number of provincial organizations over the past couple of years, but then I think hosting the Junos in 2019 was definitely a high watermark event.”

Shortly after the designation came in November, the CCMAs were hosted in London again, this time amid a pandemic.

“We had hosted these high watermark events and that was a key factor in saying that we’re a world city, that we’re a city that can work on an international level.”

Crossman said there was a three-year process to getting the designation. That timeframe goes from exploring more about the title to actually applying for it. Then, they were granted the title almost six years to the day from when they initiated the music strategy.

“It involves working with our national commission for UNESCO, gaming commission for UNESCO, it involves working with creative city network Canada and getting their support, and obviously working with community partners.”

Another factor that played into the designation was the schools that are in London, producing great music students every single day.

“A large part of us being a music hub is the fact that we have over 1,000 music students to study at post-secondary schools between Western, OIART (Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology), and Fanshawe. So that’s really what differentiated us from a lot of other communities, on top of the amazing artists, venues, recording studios, festivals, sound engineers that come from London.”

The UNESCO Creative City Network consists of 295 cities. London now works with 58 other music cities around the world.

“We work collaboratively together to advance our cultures and our communities through music. So it’s fundamental and our decision-making is baked into policies and decisions that we make as a city.”

London now joins three other cities in Canada with creative city titles. Toronto is the City of Media Arts, Montreal is the City of Design, and Quebec City is the City of Literature.

“If you think about those cities and how worldly those are, that’s the level of communities that we’re working with and the partnership of UNESCO Creative Cities that we’re now a part of. So, it’s pretty incredible.”

As a City of Music, London has six pillars that it works towards: music incubation, growing the music and film sector together, creating an inclusive community for everybody, developing music exchanges within the network, the attraction and attending of different music conferences and events, and working within the media arts. As part of the music incubation and inclusive community pillars, they’re focusing on creating opportunities for all genres of music.

This designation is huge for London and Crossman said when he woke up the morning of the announcement, it was like Christmas morning.

“I think it’s huge. It’s almost beyond description because it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s really humbling to see that London was recognized and none of this would have been possible without the decades of incredible work that’s taken place in London. We’re stepping into a new era which is really exciting.”

Ways to enjoy music this summer

London is home to many iconic music festivals, and this summer, the city is thrilled to welcome some of them back. Look out for a weekend of live Canadian music at Rocks the Park (July 13-16), featuring July Talk, The Beaches and even Alanis Morrissette. If you’re into folk music, check out Home County Music & Festival (July 15-17), which features an array of music and art vendors. Lastly, London will also play host to the Country Music Association of Ontario Festival & Awards (June 2-5), featuring a weekend of live music, culminating in a celebration at Centennial Hall where the very best in Ontario’s country music scene will be honoured.