A lesson Vancouver arts scene could learn from Seattle: “co-operation”

Vancouver’s arts community could learn lessons in co-operation from its Seattle counterparts, says Seattle’s David Brewster, whose head-to-head comparison of arts in the two towns found its way to The Tyee.

Brewster made the comment in a follow-up interview this morning on CBC’s Early Edition.

Where Seattle has a single orchestra for opera and symphony, Vancouver has two. Seattle theatre companies share sets and facilities, but Vancouver’s Playhouse Theatre, the centre of such activity in Vancouver, collapsed amid debts and recriminations last year.

This willingness to circle the wagons and shoot inward in the Vancouver arts community is an issue several arts leaders have raised with me during the past two years. Where Toronto — and apparently Seattle — nurture an arts culture of mutual aid, I’m told, Vancouver organizations compete in everything, not just the box office.

Then there’s the tendency here to blame others for an organization’s problems when a better course would be to look in the mirror. This was much in evidence at council yesterday, when W2 supporters denounced the City of Vancouver for “evicting” them from Woodwards. None mentioned W2’s inability to pay rent, although the organization moved into the city-created amenity space after a complex competition in which W2 pledged to do just that.

(The amenity space will remain for other cultural purposes, by the way, even if W2 has to move on.)

There are as many differences as there are similarities between Seattle and Vancouver. Seattle has bigger corporate donors than Vancouver, a larger metropolitan region, a longer history, etc., etc.

With Vancouver on the brink of a debate about the future of the Vancouver Art Gallery, we have a chance to see if we can emulate Seattle’s co-operative approach, a valuable quality that requires good will , not cash.