Vancouver Writers Fest founder Alma Lee raises grave concerns over future of Granville Island
The founder and first artistic director of the Vancouver Writers Fest, Alma Lee, wrote the following letter to Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal minister of families, children, and social development:
Dear Minister DuClos,
I am writing to express my grave concern for the future of a national treasure - Granville Island.
For many years I have watched the Island’s decline under the burden of mismanagement. I have been a Granville Islander for over thirty years, first as the founder and original artistic director of the Vancouver International Writers Festival, then as a long-time member of the Granville Island Trust - the body that until recently was ostensibly tasked with advising Granville Island Management under the Canadian [sic] Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). I was also a founding member and three-year chair of the Granville Island Cultural Society.
Visioned as “the most inspiring public place in the world”, Granville Island is a Canadian jewel - a unique, mixed-use urban experiment dedicated to the preservation of historical character and authenticity with a commitment to the arts and on-site production. This understanding of Granville Island comes directly from its original reference document, and, more recently, the Granville Island 2040 Plan, which you launched in 2016.
The 2040 Plan process was, like the other public processes regarding the future of the Island, micromanaged by CMHC Granville Island management. I am led to understand that the 2040 Report which was released to the public bore little resemblance to the original report, which recognized not only the importance of a new, devolved governance body, but the fact that such a body could not be developed without first having a complete review of CMHC Granville Island Management.
This recommendation was missing from the final, published report.
The problem of the Island’s mismanagement is exacerbated by the fact that there seems to be nobody to whom CMHC Granville Island Management are accountable. In all my years as a member of the Granville Island Trust, a ministerial appointment, we had no contact with anyone above the Granville Island Management level. Though initially intended to be a true governance body, the Trust was nothing more than an advisory group, and very seldom was our advice taken by CMHC Granville Island Management.
As I see it at the moment, all power on Granville Island lies with the current director, who is systematically utilizing and heightening an existing culture of fear and anger among the diverse artists, artisans, and business-owners who populate Granville Island. This is not an acceptable situation.
Granville Island cannot flourish under top-down authoritarian leadership: it requires a director who understands the spirit of the place and is willing to work with the community, and the new governance council, to continue the cultural experiment for which the Island is known.
CMHC Granville Island management is already controlling the process by which the new governance Council is being set up. The current director of Granville Island is not only chairing the 2040 Implementation Committee, but is also on the Granville Island Council Nominating Committee. This is a clear conflict of interest. This Council cannot be autonomous or empowered if CMHC Granville Island management controls the process by which it is created, as well as the people who comprise it.
Without a functioning, independent Council that meets more than four times per year, the governance recommendations outlined in the 2040 Plan are not being met and Granville Island will continue to suffer. Before the process of setting up the Granville Island Council goes too far, it should be stopped, and begun again in a way that is ethical and independent - a way that befits the precious jewel that is Granville Island and mirrors the democratic values that all Canadians hold dear.
Alma Lee, CM. D.Litt (Hon)
Vancouver, British Columbia