Arts Week a first in B.C.
By Paul Andrew
An cynical view of B.C. Culture Minister Ian Waddell’s initiative to designate Nov. 1-7 as "Arts and Culture Week" might be that it is just a cheerleading effort.
But looking at the statistics, one cannot help wondering why an arts week hasn’t been an annual event — at least since the B.C. Arts Council came into being in 1996.
The stats are staggering. One which has been known but is now confirmed is B.C.’s third place ranking behind New York and Los Angeles in the North American filmmaking industry. Another surprising statistic is the 57,300 workers in the B.C.’s arts and culture industry — 13,000 more than the agriculture and mining industry combined. And in 1999, the growth of arts and culture-related industries has doubled compared with the growth of the provincial labour force.
If you were a volunteer of some sort to the benefit of arts and culture in B.C., you’re in good company. Canada-wide there was a 95 per cent increase in volunteers between 1987 and ’97.
So why has Waddell, whose portfolio includes tourism, small business and culture, waited until 1999 to raise awareness about the arts?
"He’s saying: ‘Lobby me for money,’" said Anne Mortifee, chair of the B.C. Arts Council. "Artists tend not to lobby the government. And the arts are under subsidized. I don’t think people realize how much is going on. When I took on the job as chair, I was surprised at how un-aware I was of all the galleries. It’s huge. And a lot of it is run by volunteers."
Mortifee seems to be a perfect choice to chair the council. Her liberal views as a singer/songwriter and support of the arts community through workshops, is unmatched in B.C. She’s also received the Order of Canada for her contribution to the healing and performing arts. But even Mortifee is aware of how B.C. and Canada lag far behind our counterparts in Europe. She says Arts Week is an effort to turn the corner toward heavy subsidies, and to cut the red tape involved in the process.
"European arts are highly subsidized because they see the arts as an intrinsic part of their culture," Mortifee said from Cortez Island last week. "I think it’s great they asked a musician to chair the Arts Council. But we need more artists of all kinds. The word artist isn’t a word if you go to Africa, because everyone’s considered an artist."
In July, the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Whistler Community Arts Council announced they would, for the first time, come together as a team to determine a long term strategy for the Whistler arts community. The first step was hiring a staff person to act as a ‘go to’ person for the community. Someone who can answer most questions about the opportunities for artists in Whistler. In August that person was hired for a six month contract, and as the job goes along, the role of the co-ordinating position will be shaped and defined as needs arise.
On Nov. 2, Bob Kusch, manager of program services and community liaison for the RMOW, released information about a long-term community cultural plan that, during the next 10 years, will firm-up existing policies in Whistler and add programs and employees to help guide Whistler into the future of the arts with the help of a consulting firm from Surrey.
"I realized we had nothing planned for Arts Week but these things seem to sneak up on you," Kusch said Wednesday. "The B.C. government never gives us much lead time for these things. So I thought because it is Arts Week that it would be a good time to announce these long term plans."
The firm, Professional Environmental Recreation Consultants, will work in partnership with Legacy Heritage Consultants to asses the overall "arts and cultural needs" of Whistler. A community workshop will be held Nov. 27 to gather public input. Kusch says the RMOW will advertise the location and time of the event in local newspapers.
One of the problems in Whistler as far as promoting and displaying local arts is the fragmented approach of two or three community groups all looking for funding. One of the five priorities of the recently formed local steering committee will be to determine who will be responsible for funding the arts in Whistler.
Kym Fawcett, the media contact for the community arts council, says the B.C. government can’t be counted on for funding mostly because Whistler’s politics have never been traditionally NDP.
"It’s quite a shock that this is the first arts week," Fawcett said. "We have received some funding in the past but even if we did ask for it (now) we wouldn’t get it. We’re known more for out Liberal politics than NDP. And maybe it’s not so surprising the NDP has said they’re willing to fund arts right now. Look at the mess they’re in."
But with the cultural plan under way, perhaps leading to a unified, full-time organization representing the arts in Whistler, chances are funding from the province’s $12 million budget, which will be awarded by Mortifee and the B.C. Arts Council, will begin funnelling into Whistler.
"We’re also looking for artists in the community who we don’t know about," Kusch added. "There are a lot of high-profile artist that we know about but what about the artists out there who we haven’t heard from? We’ll be using their ideas to form a base of information to determine future programs."