If Vancouver's cultural future reflects key opinions expressed during the Creative City Strategy launch at the Roundhouse Community Centre, Jan. 24, it will champion diversity, accessibility, affordability and reconciliation.
“Let’s work towards a city where every talented young artist can get a gig,” regardless of race or economic status, said Tarun Nayar, member of fusion band Delhi 2 Dublin and artistic director of Vancouver’s City of Bhangra Festival.
“We need to create a space for culture that refuses to be defined by colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism," added Tarah Hogue, Vancouver Art Gallery’s senior curatorial fellow, focusing on Indigenous art. "I want to see a city that opens arts to everyone.”
Nayar and Hogue were part of a five-member panel organized by the cultural staff at City of Vancouver in partnership with the Push International Performing Arts Festival to address questions about ways to build a vibrant and healthy culture in the city. The panel, moderated by Jennifer Ouano, also included Cease Wyss, Belle Cheung and Nancy Lee.
“We know this is a huge task,” said Branislav Henselmann, head of the strategy team and Managing Director of Cultural Services, who welcomed the capacity crowd of artists and cultural workers to the launch. Henselmann said that the research and advice garnered during this year-long "discovery” phase will influence future policies and determine ways money will be invested in the arts. He added that during the process of developing the Strategy, continuing these kinds of dialogues will be essential. "This is a process of accountability," he said.
Norman Armour, artistic and executive director of the Push Festival, echoed those sentiments in his remarks by asking all cultural workers to take responsibility for the new plan. And Metha Brown, lead planner of the Creative City Strategy, told the audience: “We’re going to work this for you. We want to know from you the right questions we should be asking. The huge turnout here today shows that issues that shape culturel strategy are important to Vancouver.”
Not surprisingly, the lack of affordability for artists to work and live in the city was a big theme expressed by the panelists. “Artists often have to volunteer their way through things,” says Indigenous ethnobotanist and interdisciplinary artist Cease Wyss. “Our neighbourhoods get gentrified and then we’re homeless as individuals and groups.”
“Let’s make policies that are economically relevant,” agreed multidisciplinary artist Nancy Lee.
The panelists suggested that policy makers “look at the fringes” and celebrate culture that’s not mainstream or housed in the downtown core. They suggested the city hire consultants from these communities, as well as people who speak languages other than English, to assist with the policy input that will determine ways arts funding will be allocated.
While some messages about the event on social media described a “wariness in several voices” that called for action and not just words, overall, the launch kicked off on the right foot, says Brenda Leadlay, executive director of the BC Alliance. “The inclusiveness of the panel and the sharp opinions expressed offer hope for robust cultural strategies that better reflect and connect the diverse voices of Vancouver,” Leadlay says, adding that "this kind of policy making can inspire municipalities across BC."
The Creative City Strategy launch was webcast via Facebook Live and can be viewed in its entirety here. In a post-event statement, the City invited everyone to help develop the Strategy. It wants to know: "What are the questions that matter to you?" Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.