I agree that Vancouver has a long way to come in developing a system that supports cultural endeavours. It would be great if The City or The Government or other Institutions could sweep in and save everything. But what can we do about it? How can we work together to create a sustainable artistic community?
Recent history and research about cultural non-profits has suggested that previous models of aiming for continued growth and reliance on granting bodies (often at the expense of depth, meaning, and lasting intellectual relevance) may have created a bunch of giant Jenga towers on top of a rug that can be pulled out from under them at any time. More and more cultural non-profits are realizing that it is about creating and mining niche markets, not creating cultural monoliths.
In Vancouver (and elsewhere), these institutions are falling—often in part because of funding cuts. However, at least from where I’m standing, small but vibrant arts and cultural communities are abundant (I’m tempted to say “flourishing,” but, really, financially I don’t think they are flourishing. They’re facing the same challenges everyone else is).
But we can’t ignore the culture in Vancouver of not wanting to pay for things. All of the arts and culture in this city costs something—whether grants pay for it, or fundraising, or money directly out of the pockets of the people who work and/or volunteer for these projects.
Regardless of what’s happening with funding, we need to develop a culture where audiences are eager to pay for things. For subscriptions, for tickets, for memberships, for events. We have ended up with a culture of wanting to consume arts and culture but not always wanting to pay for it, but then we are upset when it all starts falling apart because there is not enough money to support it. How can we rally for The City or The Government to find the funds to sustain these projects when we’ve rarely opened our own wallets to do the same?
I encourage each of you to look at your own participation in these situations. You know that theatre you love? Buy a subscription to their season, encourage your friends to do it with you or even buy them their first ticket. Go to more individual shows if you can’t commit the time or funds to a subscription. That magazine you love to read? Subscribe to it. Buy a second subscription for your friend who would also love it. That art gallery you love to visit? Become a member. Find out when their next fundraiser is and be there. At their art auction buy a fantastic piece of art for a ridiculously low cost compared to what the work is and what it is worth. That book you’ve been meaning to buy, the one you can’t find on Amazon or at Chapters? Go to one of the independent shops that carry it and buy it. That music group you love to listen to/see perform? Buy a subscription to their season, buy their CD, go to their concerts, go to their fundraisers. Go to an independent record shop to buy their work on vinyl.
I know, you’re probably a creative too in this expensive city. You probably don’t have the money to spend on these things as a result. But what would it look like if you made room in your budget for arts and culture? If you really look, there are often things worth sacrificing (coffee out, food out, drinks out, cabs, etc.). And if I’m wrong, if you really can’t afford to do this, can you afford to volunteer some time? No? Well, then, are you able to support these organizations by simply helping to promote their efforts on your blog, your social media, via word of mouth?
It’s easy to demonize The City and Developers. And, I’m sure there is a very complex and logical reason for why doing so is not a bad idea. However, in the long run, what will create a more vibrant, sustainable arts and culture community? I imagine that even if we pull together our modest disposable incomes, volunteer power and word of mouth we still might not be able to create ongoing support for big organizations like The Playhouse. But if we each become ambassadors for the projects closest to our hearts, we can likely sustain a number of smaller organizations doing extremely meaningful and innovative things.
Photo by Bronte Taylor