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Alliance takes first look at cultural landscape

Corridor arts organizations and supporters gather in Squamish

By Nicole Fitzgerald

Those who attended the Sea to Sky Cultural Alliance’s first corridor-wide meeting showed strong support, or at least curiosity, for the newly created organization that seeks to unite communities from North Vancouver to Mount Currie to create a cultural corridor.

More than 130 people from business, government and arts sectors attended Saturday’s daylong Cultural Forum of workshops and presentations at the Sea to Sky Hotel in Squamish.

In its infancy, the organization is not yet formally structured or recognized. Forum findings will help the group of approximately 20 steering committee members establish guidelines.

The Alliance could take a number of forms: one end of the spectrum is a virtual office with government/arts representatives; at the other end is a permanent, physical office with staff.

Currently, the political leaders in the group include Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, West Vancouver mayor; Max Wyman, Lions Bay mayor; and Joan McIntyre, MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi. Administration leadership is shared between Cathy Matheson, West Vancouver cultural services manager, and Catherine Rockandel, a Squamish-based consultant.

No funding is currently in place for the organization. However, with government heavyweights behind the movement, already the Alliance has garnered forum funding from West Vancouver’s Cultural Capital Canada Grant, with other municipalities contributing a small sum for food costs.

The forum aimed to build a collective vision for the arts, examine the benefits and gather feedback on common goals, issues and interests. The committee will draw up a report of the forum findings, make recommendations and formalize the next steps.

Although no action items were formally put forward at the meeting, amongst discussions in between workshops and presentations, groups started conversations about possibilities — a Sea to Sky ticketing office, a corridor website, a visitor’s trail guide to all of the artist hot spots and festivals along Highway 99.

The networking taking place was exactly what alliance founder Rockandel envisioned for the forum. After living in many Sea to Sky corridor communities over the years, Rockandel, a proponent of the arts, began to hear common challenges amongst arts communities. She wanted to create a corridor-wide network where groups could connect to build a stronger arts community.

Some of the benefits to a collaborative effort discussed at the forum included the recognition of artists and organizations in communities, collective branding and marketing, pooling of resources, arts advocacy, increased opportunities and diversity, collective lobbying for funding, capacity building, economic growth, cultural tourism and improved quality of life — one of the key arguments put forward by Wyman, not only Lions Bay’s mayor, but an author and former arts editor for the Vancouver Sun.

He talked about the arts moving past simple, personal pleasures and building identity and broadening personal horizons. He said creative, open-minded thinkers are vital to today’s new economy. Arts also help harmonize social groups and express our identity.

“We learn how to live together better and that comes from sharing artistic expression,” he said. “Through developing a strong arts and culture background, we can bring in forward-looking industry people.”

He drew on examples of how arts programs shortened hospital stays and rehabilitated prisoners.

He noted how much the arts invests in Canada’s economy: More than $7 billion, with spin-off benefits in jobs and services amounting to $40 billion. Arts and culture is a $5 billion industry in B.C. — bigger than mining, lumber and fishing combined, he noted. He also recognized how out of the top 10 recognized arts communities in Canada; four are from the Sea to Sky corridor.

Some of the challenges that might arise from a corridor collective were not formally addressed at the forum. However, a group of artists contributed a brainstorm of concerns to the forum report, including questions about how the varying degrees of community capacities and resources would affect the collective; perceptions of competition and community losing its identity in a collective branding; unwillingness to give up control and ownership; and workload on already stressed staffing and resources.

The Alliance’s promotional video (also funded by the Cultural Capital Grant) illustrating various images of artists, artworks and events throughout the corridor also raised questions about quality, image and artists’ voices in the group. Artists were not credited in the video. Most photos were amateur, bland and didn’t capture the vibrant nature of the corridor’s art scene. A folk artist with acoustic guitar singing an original Howe Sound melody over top left an impression. But may not have been the collective image all communities wanted to buy into .