Melissa Fong: Encouraging an inclusive cultural and artistic city
On April 28, Vision Vancouver sponsored a panel at the Fox Cabaret to discuss how to preserve cultural spaces in a growing city.
The panel, hosted by Vision’s Heather Deal and Geoff Meggs, invited guests Kate Armstrong (director at Emily Carr), Ernesto Gomez (Arrival Agency), and Esther Rausenberg (EastSide Culture Crawl) to talk about the opportunities and limitations in culture and arts in Vancouver.
There were a few productive conversations about maintaining affordability and arts production and performance spaces, but those points were obvious in the context of increasing unaffordability and consequent artist exodus.
Some of the more creative ideas produced by Gomez were challenging the city to think about public spaces as art spaces and reducing bureaucratic barriers for people who wanted to produce food events.
Deal also took a moment to promote “art carts”, a type of non-food street vending cart that will provide local artists a place to sell their products. This is an exciting opportunity that will encourage more street-level presence of artisan-made goods.
One of the most concerning issues, however, is that Meggs and Vision Vancouver seemed unwilling to go beyond mainstream understandings of arts and culture. There was a significant amount of criticism on the event page about non-mainstream artists not being invited to speak or directly invited to attend.
This is likely because Vision Vancouver’s constituency is not the non-mainstream or independent artist community.
While the event was open to the public, it was sponsored by Vision so, naturally, Vision members were invited first.
Meggs stated a few mainstream solutions that would open up Vancouver as an arts and culture city: creating permanent fixtures for outdoor events (to lessen troubles of setup/takedown during festivals); preserving existing performance spaces; and providing funding directly to arts organizations. These are great initiatives but also obvious ones.
One of the main problems with the identified solutions is that they exclude non-mainstream artists who do not have access to organizational funding or, perhaps, use non-standard spaces to curate their events. Also, for live-music artists, the increasing residentialization of the city (and NIMBYism from property owners) is limiting opportunities to perform in warehouse spaces. The Downtown Eastisde Local Area Plan is an example of municipally legislated ways in which you can remove artistic, accessible, and affordable spaces by privileging developer interests.
I would like to challenge the Vision Vancouver team to think about the ways in which non-mainstream artists, often also young, queer, and racialized, are at the forefront of curating some of the most innovative events in the city. These voices are yearning for a seat at the table, and Vision has denied their voices in favour of the most obvious solutions that didn’t require an “expert panel”.
Moreover, many of the solutions stated at the event were in favour of how to commodify art and artistic spaces. There were only minor references to public space and accessibility, in the face of a growing voice that would like to see reduced regulation barriers, more accessible costs, and less criminalization of independent artists’ efforts to create inclusive experiential art spaces that are not something that can be bought or sold.
Perhaps we can challenge both the city and citizens at this moment. For the City of Vancouver, consider non-mainstream artists and help create a living-artistic city, rather than an institutionalized set of mainstream art facilities and commodified events. Let’s think about creating a city for artists, people whose jobs it is to inspire, rather than find ways to attract tourism to gaze upon representations of art and culture.
Independent artists and citizens who support non-mainstream arts: I know you often don’t feel represented or heard, and this results in “opting out” in political process, but this is your time to make a fuss, challenge the city and make your voices heard through action and more formalized political participation. With co-operation, we can build a diverse and inclusive arts and culture city.
You can read my immediate event summary and live-tweeting here.
(P.S: It is wrong to assume that all artists want mass-commodity-driven appeal. Many independent non-mainstream artists just want to be able to live and create—their art is invaluable to communities who build relationships from interactions from creative expression. What an unfortunate city we would live in if we excluded those artists).