Vancouver and Toronto are facing similar cultural challenges

The Toronto mayoral election will take place on June 26. Many of the cultural debates that have arisen in the current mayoral race in Canada’s largest city also reverberate here on the Wes Coast. Indeed, several issues raised by cultural organizations in Toronto are very similar to the cultural challenges being faced in Vancouver, according to the BC Alliance for Arts + Culture, an organization that brings together 430 cultural organizations across British Columbia.

In British Columbia, the critical issues are access to affordable housing for cultural spaces, artists, and arts workers, the effect of COVID, and the slow return of the public and arts and culture funding policies.

The Alliance’s executive director, Rainbow Robert, believes that it is vital to promote the role and importance of culture during election periods, and to do so with all three levels of government. The cultural sector is important for its richness and vitality as well as its economic contribution in connection with the tourist industry.

“Small museums and cultural organizations are essential to the overall health of BC’s tourism ecosystem. Tourists enjoy having diverse and varied experiences. Discovering a hidden gem makes a visit memorable,” the BC Museums Association recently argued.

Three major cultural issues

According to Robert, many Vancouver artists are at risk of abandoning their craft out of financial necessity, unable to cope with the high housing prices and the rising cost of living. The same is true for the future of several cultural events whose production costs have increased by 30 per cent.

She points out that the COVID period has had its effects, and the resumption of cultural activities with public audiences still worries several producers and organizers. In remote regions, the situation is even more critical because cultural organizations are struggling to survive despite the presence of talented people.

The ingenuity of the cultural milieu

According to Robert, we must rely more on the creativity and ingenuity driving many artistic companies. Collectively and individually, everyone is trying to reinvent their ways, including offering shows in new cultural spaces. With the housing crisis at least, promising solutions are already moving ahead.

She cites the examples of 221A and C-Space at Progress Lab 1422, an organization that has created innovative formulas for facilitating access to production space and housing for artists and administrative space and rehearsal halls for organizations looking for new models for cultural spaces. New strategies are emerging as is sharing between cultural organizations.

Costs are rising, but budgets are not keeping up

At the end of May, the British Columbia Finance Committee held hearings in preparation for the 2024 budget. The BC Alliance for Arts + Culture made a presentation emphasizing two priorities: the funding of cultural infrastructures and an increase in the annual funding of the BC Arts Council.

During her presentation, Robert praised government initiatives that have supported the resilience of cultural organizations during COVID. Today, one of the challenges is to multiply the use of cultural spaces through a more creative approach allowing new performing studios and accommodations for artists.

Rainbow Robert, executive director of BC Alliance for Arts + Culture | Photo courtesy of BC Alliance for Arts + Culture

In financial terms, Robert believes it is time to ensure the longevity of cultural organizations in British Columbia. To achieve this, the BC Alliance for Arts + Culture requests that the annual budget for the BC Arts Council be increased to $50 million annually from the current $39.6 million. According to Robert, the committee gave a favorable reception to the organization’s presentation.

Similarly, at the Francophone Cultural Council of British Columbia (CCFCB), Jean-François Packwood also wants more enthusiastic government support. For him, a pressing Francophone issue remains the recruitment of French-speaking personnel, and the difficulty of presenting francophone artistic events more often across the province. The CCFCB has fourteen Francophone cultural organizations and is also part of the BC Coalition of the Arts.

A most surprising election?

At the end of Toronto’s mayoralty vote, two surprising scenarios could take shape. Two women might find themselves guiding the destinies of Toronto and Montreal, and/or there could be two people of Asian origin at the helms of Toronto and Vancouver.

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