A Vancouver Arts Council: city should support the arts, not control them

Despite Vancouver’s claim to be a cultural capital, it is one of the few major cities in Canada to operate its cultural grants program through a bureaucracy — the Office of Cultural Affairs — rather than through an arts council. Other Canadian cities, like Edmonton and Toronto, already have very successful arts councils that direct the city’s cultural activities. (Vancouver has a parallel in the Economic Development Council, which runs at arms length from city council.)

In Vancouver, city staff review applications for arts grants and council simply rubber stamps them. The result is a cultural community that tip toes carefully around the Office of Cultural Affairs: one wrong move and your grant’s gone. If council reduced the OCA to an office responsible solely for managing the city’s theatres and concert venues, a significant amount of new money could be freed up for investment in other cultural activities. (No jobs need be lost — the city is big enough to find new positions for anyone displaced.) Proposals for funding would be reviewed and approved by artists’ peers, not city staff or politicians.

It’s time for a true Vancouver arts council, run by the arts community itself, to take the politics and the bureaucracy out of arts funding.

Credit where credit is due: a leading advocate for this concept has been Duncan Low, former director of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and a member of Vision Vancouver’s founding executive. Look for this idea to be a critical element of Vision’s election platform in November.