Yesterday, Vancouver city council did something unusual: it unanimously supported a motion introduced and seconded by NPA councillors, who are in the minority.
It came after Coun. Elizabeth Ball, a long-time supporter of the arts, urged council to ask staff to investigate whether the city should adopt the Agenda 21 policy statement.
This statement calls upon local governments to recognize culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development.
Arising out of the World Public Meeting for Culture in Brazil in 2002 and approved in 2004 in Barcelona, Agenda 21 recognizes that the present definition of sustainability doesn't include culture as one of its components. It's only rooted in three areas: environment, social inclusion, and economics.
Residents of Vancouver don't always make the connection between a vibrant arts and cultural scene and sustainability. But this has been recognized for years by those who paid attention to a landmark 2007 Vancity report called The Power of the Arts in Vancouver: Creating a Great City.
Prepared by Italian professor Pier Luigi Sacco with former Vancity research fellow Bob Williams and former Vancity research associate Elvy Del Bianco, it offered a blueprint on how B.C.'s largest credit union could support arts and culture and advance sustainability.
It highlighted how creative industries add economic value. Of equal importance, the report pointed out that an economy more rooted in experiences than in the consumption of goods is inherently better for the environment. According to the authors, that was the direction the world must go, given the state of the planet.
"Vancouver is strong in almost all sectors of the creative industry spectrum: from visual arts to film and video, from radio and TV to performing arts, from software to advertising (and it has AdBusters, too), from architecture to music, from design to publishing," the report stated.
However, the report noted that the city did not, at that time, have "a cultural system of interacting actors; instead, it has an astounding collection of isolated players that try to make a living on their own".
"No wonder, then, that the cultural profile of the city isn't apparent to its very inhabitants," the authors stated.
Since then, the City of Vancouver, Creative B.C., Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and other organizations have taken steps to bring more cohesiveness to the creative industries and highlight their importance to senior levels of government.
But still, the public and the media, as a whole, are largely in the dark about the connections between culture and a sustainable economy. This is notwithstanding the efforts of a former employee of the David Suzuki Foundation, Coun. Heather Deal, to make these links. It's no coincidence that Deal, a biologist by training, is city council's front person on arts and culture.
Ball's motion could help. It requires staff to "investigate the opportunity for the City of Vancouver to participate in the United Cities and Local Governments' Leading Cities (UCLG) cultural sustainability capacity-building and learning programme". This would provide staff with more insights into how to advance arts and culture to promote sustainability.
The UCLG endorsed the Agenda 21 policy statement in 2010.
"The following motion has three purposes: (1) to promote the development of Vancouver’s arts and cultural sector; (2) to promote cultural diversity and inclusion within the City of Vancouver; (3) to ensure that culture has a major place in all of the City of Vancouver’s public policies," Ball wrote.
It pointed out that Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Nanaimo, Kelowna, New Westminster, Langley, Port Moody, and Nelson have also incorporated culture as their fourth sustainability pillar. So Vancouver is not alone in this regard.