Why do communities foster the arts?
This week, thousands gathered from near and far to enjoy the 28th annual Harmony Arts Festival in Ambleside. While the festival would not happen without the considerable contributions of talented artists, generous sponsors and dedicated volunteers, it is organized and staged by the District of West Vancouver.
Many local governments see value in supporting the arts. The “Bilbao Effect” refers to the dramatic impact on that city of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. While our circumstancesare very different, the arts can and do play a key role in defining our collective identity and fostering economic and social vitality in our community. For example, our Museum recently held its annual Modern Home Tour, showcasing the District’s wealth of mid-century and modern houses. The Tour highlights West Vancouver’s history and reinforces our identity as a contemporary creative hub.
Every year, I host elementary classes at City Hall. To help the students understand our budgeting process, I give each one 10 pennies to place in one of 15 jars, representing different municipal services. Many of the students place all of their pennies in the “fire” or “police” jar, reasoning that these services are essential. However, there are always a few bright students who also contribute to the jars labelled “library”, “theatre” and “arts facility”. When asked for their reasoning, they talk about the need for beauty, expression and connection. Other students often ask if they can reallocate their pennies. Since the core business of local government is to meet basic needs like safety, health, and order, it is very easy for the arts to lose out. This would be short sighted and unfortunate.
How can we do a better job?
In June, Council passed a five year, comprehensive Arts and Culture Strategy. It’s objectives are broad, ambitious and important. I am focussed on:
preservation and improvement of our much- loved waterfront arts facilities;
a re-imagination of Klee Wyck that honours and builds on the legacy of Dr. Ethlyn Trapp;
an appropriate home for the Museum that properly celebrates West Vancouver’s history;
an ambitious program to place iconic public art throughout the community; and
expanded, first-class arts and cultural events.
While progress will require District support, we will also need private sector and community contributions to avoid placing undue pressure on the District’s finances.
The arts help us understand who we are and the world around us. They help us to remember where we have been and envision where we might go. They help us communicate and bring us together. As the insightful elementary students intuitively understand, we must allocate our pennies carefully and continue to nourish arts and culture in our community.
THIS COMMENT IS THE PERSONAL OPINION OF THE AUTHOR AND IS NOT MADE ON BEHALF OF ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY.