Vancouver Arts Summit: New Directions panel

This is my blow-by-blow of the morning panel discussion: New Directions for Advancing the Arts in BC: A Go Forward Strategy, moderated by Howard Jang, Executive Director of the Arts Club Theatre. I made every effort to duplicate the panelists’ comments exactly; however, I must still apologize to anyone who feels that they or their position was misrepresented.

Howard began the forum by quoting from Diane Ragsdale’s keynote address, in which she described a town hall meeting at a recent National Performing Arts Convention in Denver, Colorado, where the following issue was identified as the #1 challenge:

“Our communities do not sufficiently perceive the value, benefits, and relevance of the arts, which makes advocacy and building public support for the arts a challenge at every level.”

His suggestion that this was a sentiment shared by most people in the room was greeted with a round of applause. He followed this up by saying that - in his experience - advocacy efforts have not substantially changed over the years, and yet the community keeps expecting a different outcome (which, as we all know, is the definition of insanity). He articulated the goals of the panel, which was to look at the cultural landscape through a different lens and brainstorm new ways forward, and introduced the first speaker, Spencer Herbert, NDP MLA for the West End and the newly re-appointed arts critic.

Spencer had a difficult message for the arts community: We must do more. His first question was, “What do trappers, scientologists and steelhead fishers have in common?” The answer: they are all better lobbyists than the arts. “Pardon me for swearing,” he said, “but we need to get our shit together.” Unless they have an artist in their lives bending their ear, he said, the arts do not exist to most politicians. He heaped criticism on the community for not making the arts more of an issue during the election, and remarked that, during the campaign, he heard more about pit bulls than the arts. He commented that the new provincial culture minister, Kevin Krueger, has restated his commitment to the Service Plan, which enumerates devastating cuts to the arts in the coming years, and recommended more action. Specifically, he advised that the community convene an Arts Day at the Legislature (similar to Arts Day at on Parliament Hill organized a few years ago); he suggested to have people go to every Minister and talk about the effects of the cuts; he advocated for the creation of compelling literature that made a mobilizing case for the sector; and he said that we need artists at every budget consultation to advocate for reversing the cuts.

Next up was Barbara Steele, a councilor the City of Surrey, who followed up with some information about cultural situation in Surrey, which is rapidly growing into the largest city in BC. She noted that there needs to be more arts education, and enumerated the debilitating effects of its lack on the growth of future audiences and the sustainability of the industry. She impressed upon everyone the importance of aligning ourselves with key people from outside the sector (media, business, industry, etc.) instead of merely advocacy for ourselves, which can often seem self-serving. Like Spencer, she said that the community needs to develop clear messaging and be more aware of decision-makers’ agendas and priorities in order to make it easier for them to say yes. She remarked upon the arts being a significant reason why Vancouver is consistently ranked one of the most livable cities in the world, and reminded everyone of the paramount importance of cultural diversity in and all advocacy work. She noted that one of the first things developers insist upon is that the arts corridor be in place before a single brick is laid, and she finished up by inviting the next Summit to take place in Surrey.

Next up was Monique Lacerte-Roth, Coordinator of Community Arts Development and Scholarship Programs for the BC Arts Council, who discussed the three goals put forward by the council for the next four years as a result of their strategic overview, which are to:

  1. Foster artistic excellence
  2. Build community engagement and strengthening connections between artists and cultural activities
  3. Enhance financial stability of arts organizations

She finished up by noting that there are significant challenges ahead, since they are uncertain of the budget situation and what funds will be available, and thanked everyone for their hard work.

Ian Forsyth spoke of the unique position of his organization, the North Vancouver Office of Cultural Affairs, as a group that serves two very different municipalities (he compared it to living with divorced parents). He spoke of the importance of developing the funding programs in the other municipalities that are served by the artistic community in Vancouver, and discussed the importance of smaller arts organizations in the municipalities in fostering community. Ian sees his role as a funder as having a responsibility to looking at future opportunities while being mindful of fulfilling ongoing responsibilities. He spoke of upcoming opportunities in Lower Lonsdale as being a singular opportunity to connect what is happening at both sides of the Burrard Inlet.

Margo Kane of Full Circle was next, and she discussed the importance of remembering the ecology of the community, its history and the programs of exclusion that have existed in the past. She reminded everyone that if you want to have a relationship with someone, you have to put yourself forward and invite that partnership, and then develop that connection. She also made a comparison to the sacred tree at the centre of the medicine wheel that looks different from every angle; when there is any great undertaking ahead, the community needs every perspective in order to fully explain and describe what happens next. The artistic community, she believes, needs to look outward and think about the whole community rather than being self-serving. Where is the sharing, she asked? Where is the generosity?

Max Reimer from the Playhouse was last, and he remarked upon a comment made during Mr. Moore’s funding announcement wherein he said that the government had listened… but who had they listened to? In a representative government, he said, politicians lead us where we want to go, and the arts community needs to make sure that their electorate is speaking in one voice. We cannot be in disarray. He compared the arts community to a family farming operation; if it doesn’t rain and the climate is just right, you might survive – which makes it difficult for us to find time to stand up for ourselves. And he left us with the idea that we need to supply politicians with a position in the community, so that when asked about their involvement in the arts, they will be less inclined to make a token statement about the fact that they play the piano or that their kid is taking drama.

All in all, it was engaging and informative panel. Thank you to all who participated.

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