Creative City: Arts + Flourishing

June 27, 2017

A vibrant Arts City is part of an ecology and requires diverse elements to exist. The flourishing of the arts is dependant on place; it shapes and acts on arts production. In cultivating Vancouver’s visual arts to flourish, a number of strategies will be examined to enable production spaces; encourage philanthropic funding; and create collaborative, exhibition opportunities for artists to thrive.

The City of Vancouver has a sharp duality in its spatial distribution of cultural activities, the Eastside, which is culturally active but relatively low income; and the Westside, that is economically affluent but culturally limited. The conditions attracting the creative class, a socially relevant demographic to create new meaningful forms and creative content to Vancouver serves to create a cultural hierarchy, and  produces disparities in economic status among its residents.

The reality facing emerging and established artists is a myriad of barriers ranging from escalating rents; higher taxes; and zoning uses affecting the affordability and availability of production spaces. The City’s Welcome to Your Flats s a redevelopment plan to create a Cultural Precinct, an amenity node in the Industrial Flats focusing on revitalization without displacing numerous studio spaces at 1000 Parker Street. The health of Vancouver’s arts and cultural sector relies heavily on the Flats with 40 percent of artists studios located in this neighbourhood.

Arts and culture organizations are set up according to disciplines, which detracts from sustaining the health and vibrancy of a broader ecology. Many organizations view their needs in isolation of the broader creative sector or within the context of broader community interests. Collaboration plays a central and increasingly important role in supporting and developing creative practice. The Creative City is about lateral and integrative thinking in all aspects of city planning and urban development, placing artists, not infrastructure, at the centre of the planning processes.

Encouraging philanthropic efforts to support the visual arts as private initiatives for the public good is not a new idea. There is a responsibility with great wealth and the importance of social justice to do good. Audain’s love of place and supporting BC artists and culture are larger contributions to society. Westbank’s ability to change how public art and the function of a patron transforms into cultural expression through a built form to create beauty in the City.

An economic disparity continues to be seen in community programming relative to the Eastside and Westside of Vancouver. The challenges the Arts continues to reflect is to be more truly multi-cultural as the role and make up of the modern city evolves. An opportunity exists for the cultural sector to establish or more accurately reclaim a role that places art firmly at the centre of public debate. It leaves us to revere our artists and to invest in the necessary production spaces, encourage philanthropic funding, and create public exhibition spaces for a healthy, vibrant society.


Theatrics of Dance: Discoveries in Dialogue

Wen Wai Dance presents “Dialogue”, a contemporary work at the Scotia Dance Centre, a part of the Global Dance Connection series. In collaboration with male dancers from varying backgrounds, skin colour, and language, the work examines language as artificial structures of culture and affect in a multi-cultural society.

Language in a cultural setting has many layers built up with different ways of knowing. It draws on a line to “play or be played”. In the opening scene, dancers are arranged in a semi-circle, flanked on the outskirts by men of colour and focused on a single white male’s back, which excludes a whole view. It brings home an awareness of structures.

The universality of dance opens up dialogue across diverse groups through each dancer’s embodied expression. In repetitive gestures, the double-fisting pattern similar to the game of rock, paper, scissors highlights a need to communicate, to make a connection.

Variations in movement adds to a rich, sensory quality aroused by the physicality of the dancers. The dancers’ movements walking across the stage has a rhythmic feel to the pacing of a fashion runway show. An encounter designed by an experimental dance structure plays to each dancer’s lively persona, and everyday objects to capture the essence of the individual. A language for each dancer emerges as styles, gaits and signature sounds of stilettos develops an aura or presence unique to each dancer. I see into a space where structures are reframed and connections can flourish outside the barriers of creed, colour or language.

Dialogue continues in a scene with two dancers. One dancer of asian descent in a headstand defying gravity, remains strong in form. In contrast, a white dancer in an upright vertical line is dancing alone, entranced in his own world. A visible shift occurs as the white cushion unfolds into a shirt and once donned the asian dancer’s arm spasms  into a self-beating with his left hand slapping repeatedly over his shoulder. Once the shirt is removed and worn by the caucasian dancer there is no conflict or struggle. I realize in this moment the power of dance to communicate.

This work, as a theatrical art form, is communicating a broad idea of dialogue from particular cultures. Dance mirrors an ebb and flow in contemporary society. As individuals, and part of a larger collective, navigating the boundaries of understanding and being understood through multiple ways of representation is aptly explored through embodied expression.

The choreography driving the creative process of discovery, experimenting and developing movement and sequences is impactful. Dance has the ability to transcend structures as the immediacy, visual understanding is clearer and at its heart lies human connection. “Dialogue” opens our visual field in the commentary across multi-cultural backgrounds, colours, and language.


Contemplating Contemporary Art: Michael Nicoll Yaghulaanas at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre

Yahgulanaas’ art engages in social commentary and offers us a post-modern glimpse into our visual culture. How can art disrupt our perception? What makes art more accessible? Why is art relevant?

I’m listening to Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, contemporary artist and political statesman, touch on collective, connected interests in amongst a larger, global community. He readily ties in conversation a range of current issues from climate action to missing indigenous women. While simultaneously, he embodies the tradition of First Nations’ oral history and the lineage of story telling.

A broad public interest in the media of comics, graphic novels, animated cartoons, anime, manga, and computer/video games continues to grow exponentially in contemporary art production. Yahgulanaas’ Red 2009, a classical Haida story in its hybridized form combines Northwest Coast design elements and Japanese manga, is a marker or spirit of its time. It plays on the perceptive shift from a book into a mural; and transforms from a series of formline templates into a collective artwork.

In the theatrical space of the SFU’s World Art Centre, Yahgulanaas asks us to question monumental art. The exploration into a first draft sketchbook to new commissioned work has us look at the fluidity of the collective whole in relation as a book into a large-scale mural. The detailed frames of the story, each with captions in text and designs in watercolour, are abstracted forms of Haida manga showing the artist’s discipline and intensive practice of the accessible, comic form.

When Yahgulanaas references a mobile artist engaged in the world, he speaks to those technological advances and the responsibilities of being connected. Our freedom as a viewer to choose how to engage with collective artworks has links to the traditions of large-scale works. Totem Poles carved and not yet raised gives us pause to see sections of formline designs in more detail when laying a work horizontal. Similarly, a Chinese landscape in a scroll form with sections visible to the viewer at any one time can also focus on a selection of details that delights and creates intimacy in contemplating works.

In a story or the larger, gestalt ability to acquire and make meaning out of a chaotic world, it goes beyond the sum of its parts to a shared human understanding. A work in progress from 2013 is an apt analogy of Haida crests of clans interconnected in a circular form with no primary horizon line. By deliberately engaging with the drawing to turn it either in a counter clock-wise or clock-wise fashion, there are multiple points of viewing.

Yahgulannaas’ rights and privileges to tell First Nations’ stories are on the legitimacy of his lineage. In bridging the Haida story through an “exotic other”, it firmly holds a universal truth there are shared conditions of self-interest, revenge and tragedy when it presents itself. We bear witness to the stories we hear and the telling nature of our collective history in our everyday lives that is deeply woven into the fabric of our cultural heritage.