City of Vancouver unveils strategies to enhance arts and culture over next five years

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      Vancouver's senior cultural planner has told council that the city's "great art" is sometimes better known elsewhere than it is at home.

      "And so we need to really promote it," Richard Newirth said. "We need to promote it both locally, nationally, and internationally."

      Newirth made the remark during an October 23 presentation to council's city finances and services committee about Vancouver's cultural plan.

      "To achieve our goals, we really need to focus on four things: innovation, engagement, resilience, and transformation," he said.

      He cited five "strategic directions" that will be emphasized from 2014 to 2018:

      • Foster cultural leadership

      • Increase participation and engagement

      • Provide sustainable support programs

      • Optimize city investment

      • Invest in creative economy

      “This is a strategic framework—and how these policies are actually implemented is going to take a bit of time," Newirth said. "And we will be coming back and checking in with you [council] on each of the pieces...We will be doing consultations on every piece of work that we do.”

      Culture boosts B.C. economy

      Citing Statistics Canada data, Newirth's PowerPoint presentation notes that the creative sector contributed $5.24 billion to the provincial gross domestic product in 2009. 

      Drawing on research by Hill Strategies, Newirth told council that there are 25,000 cultural workers in the region, which accounts for 7.7 percent of all jobs. Nearly two-thirds of B.C.'s cultural workers live in Greater Vancouver.

      "We are certainly hopeful that what we do will enable us to open up the doors to new and emerging organizations by really giving us the opportunity, first of all, to spend the time that’s needed, as well as to allocate the resources that are necessary," Newirth told council.

      He revealed that next week, there will be a call for arts groups to apply for $4.5 million in community-amenity contributions from Rize Alliance's mixed-use development at the corner of Kingsway and East Broadway.

      In addition, the public will soon learn about new nonprofit tenants in city-leased space at the CBC building and in the city's cultural space in the Woodward's building.

      Arts enhances well-being

      Newirth's presentation underscores that participation in arts and culture "has a strong connection with better health, more volunteering and greater satisfaction with life". As well, culture was characterized as a critical component to building a "vibrant, livable, and healthy city".

      Vancouver has the highest per capita concentration of artists in Canada.

      Newirth's PowerPoint presentation states that there are 173 galleries and museums, 106 other exhibition and performance spaces, and 131 artists' studios and workshops in Vancouver. The city owns 56 of these cultural spaces.

      According to a 2009 Hill Strategies report, Vancouver ranked ahead of Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Calgary in civic grants per capita. Vancouver was second in cultural investment per capita among those cities.

      Moving from consumption to engagement

      The growth of the cultural economy has corresponded with increased demand for experiences as opposed to the mere consumption of goods.

      A 2007 Vancity report called The Power of the Arts in Vancouver: Creating a Great City described in detail how greater emphasis on the arts in the post-industrial era could enhance the community's sense of identity while fuelling the economy in a more sustainable way.

      Newirth touched on this theme in his presentation, noting that the city's approach is really about building resilience.

      One of the slides highlighted a need for paradigm shifts from growth to sustainable growth, and from consumption to engagement.

      Council also approved arts grants

      Council also voted in favour of a staff recommendation to provide $250 grants to 98 organizations, which had already received approval for operating assistance.

      In addition, council approved a staff recommendation for a $238,100 grant to Vantage Point.

      "The shared goal of the partnership with Vantage Point is to cultivate excellence in non-profit leadership towards strengthening and creating positive change in our communities," a staff report states. "The partnership allows the City to lever its resources strategically (funds with knowledge experts)  and have a greater impact in capacity building for the sector with the intent of making our cultural organizations more sustainable over time."

      With files from Yolande Cole.



      Jim Van Rassel

      Oct 24, 2013 at 12:32pm

      Art and culture are wonderful things, but they are a luxury. With people dying on our streets do to homelessness, drug and alcohol problem, starvation (malnutrition), mental health issues or a victim of crime, in my way of looking at it, we can't afford it. In the end you are sacrificing a life so you can feel all warm and fuzzy to a select few.
      Jim Van Rassel

      Charles Barber

      Oct 24, 2013 at 2:15pm

      Mr Van Rassel makes a good point, but overlooks a better one.

      Art defines and illuminates us. It communicates across the globe the truths of the human heart. It does all of these things in spirit and joy and fear and power. Our species was making cave paintings at the beginning of recorded history. Art has always been part of our DNA.

      Who was the Mayor of Vienna when Mozart lived there?

      Answer: no one knows. No one cares. All that matters is that Mozart was once alive, creating immortal music and characters and stories.

      Canada is an extraordinarily rich nation, and Vancouver perhaps its most prosperous city. We can do everything Mr Van Rassel wants us to do.

      We can do almost everything our creative impulse demands we do.

      Art is how we remember who we are, and what we imagine we could be. It is essential.

      Tom Durrie

      Oct 24, 2013 at 6:06pm

      Most of the social ills that Mr. Van Rassel cites are obviated in a lively artistic and cultural milieu. If we had more art and music we would have fewer sick people. Art is already proving to be a vital restorative force in our troubled downtown east side. Events like the Heart of the City Festival demonstrate this clearly, and organizations like the Community Arts Council and the Saint james Music Academy are providing life-giving and life-enhancing opportunities for people of all ages. Investment in the arts returns a thousand-fold in social dividends.

      Diana Sandberg

      Oct 24, 2013 at 10:38pm

      As Mr. Barber alluded to above, art has been part of human life from its very beginnings. People who lived in caves and had to work very hard to scrape out a bare living - they had art; they told stories, played music on drums and flutes, painted pictures. Clearly, art isn't about [not just about] providing amusement for the luxurious bored.

      Humans are social beings, like lions, antelope, bees, but unlike other social animals, we are also self-aware. Being self-aware isolates us, each in our own skin; we recognize that we can't *really* know what is going on in other people's heads. This works against community [a good thing, btw, for those who want people to be interchangeable worker parts].

      Artists bridge the gap between all these isolated individuals; artists evoke emotion and recognition; art is what allows us to recognize ourselves in other people, other people in ourselves. Art facilitates empathy; without it there can be no community and no hope.

      Alan Layton

      Oct 25, 2013 at 12:40pm

      Jim Van Rassel, the ills of a few thousand incredibly unfortunate people in Vancouver is but a drop in the ocean compared to the suffering of hundreds of millions of people worldwide who do not have the support network that the disadvantaged people in Canada have. Why don't you care about them?

      Libraries and seniors activity programs cost the city a great deal of money. Perhaps we should shut them down until every addict or mentally ill person is cured.

      Ken Lawson

      Oct 28, 2013 at 12:29pm

      Art has proven to be an legitimate prevention tool for many of the ailments that you mention, Mr Van Rassel. Art is also a proven strategy in addressing most of these existing conditions and increasing awareness about them. As someone who used to work in social services and currently as the Artistic Producer of a theatre company that produces original wellness based plays with youth, I have personally seen on many occasions how art is the only thing that has provided an alternative to drug and alcohol use, and has dramatically improved or prevented metal health conditions, which is at the core of many of these other conditions. Art is not frivolous. Art gives meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose provide hope and a solid foundation of positive mental health. Skills learned through art are practical and applicable to all other areas of life. Art provides confidence and inspires community. Even corporations recognize the value of art. Corporations pay me to come in and teach their managers and employees to be more creative and innovative, to become better communicators and to enhance the performance of their team. Not frivolous stuff. By promoting and cultivating a vibrant arts community we are not "sacrificing a life", we are enhancing, and in many cases, saving lives.