Cultural activist and award-winning playwright Marcus Youssef is fully aware of the vagaries presented by the alphabetical soup at-large ballot used in Vancouver’s civic elections.
In this November’s civic vote, the 41-year-old artistic director at Neworld Theatre knows he will be close to the bottom on the park board ballot, assuming he is nominated by the Coalition of Progressive Electors membership at the party’s September 18 nomination meeting.
“When my dad came from Egypt [in 1960], the Egyptian authorities changed his name from Abamoussa to Youssef,” Youssef said with a huge laugh. “I guess they were working for the NPA, I don’t know, those Egyptian customs guys. The Y is, whatever, well, I guess it’s time for somebody to take on the task of campaigning for legislation to reverse the alphabet order in the ballot.”
But Youssef is adamant the Y in his name “is what it is”, and he said he will just do what he can to get his profile out there. The Montreal-born artist turns 42 on August 11, and said he has some definitive ideas about how to make arts and culture more accessible city-wide.
“I’ve long been a member of the party and support its commitment to access to power and policy development for all people, not just those with money and connections in the development community, or the developer community,” Youssef said. “So that’s why I got involved in COPE originally, but I have had a kind of agenda from the beginning.”
For a young city like Vancouver, where, “depending on which study you read”, culture industries make up seven to 10 percent of the economy, Youssef said he is always surprised “there are very few arts and culture people involved at the political level, with a background in arts and culture”. This is where he comes in.
“I think there is opportunity to make arts and culture more central to our experiences at parks,” he said.
And Youssef said this can be done inexpensively, so that the balance shifts back toward arts and culture from what he said is a “rec-based”—or sport-based—emphasis at the park board.
“We have a tremendous number of world-class arts and culture training programs in the city, from Emily Carr to Studio 58 to the Academy of Music, et cetera, et cetera,” he said. “Yet, when I see park programs happening for kids in the parks, which is fantastic all the time, they are always rec-based. We’ve put a ton into our city’s rec infrastructure, which again is fantastic, but at a time when arts programs and music programs are being cut in schools, because of budget stuff, how about those students working in tandem with those programs in the parks and letting emerging professional artists work with kids?”
This November will determine how far people are willing to take his ideas, assuming that voters have enough votes left once they reach Youssef on the ballot.