Nanaimo: the Cultural Capital of Canada (!)
An area I’d like to see developed on the blog is in the general area of what can be broadly described as “culture”. It came to mind recently when I was reading the Daily News report about the consultants report to the new Economic Development Commission (Nanaimo needs an identity if it wants to grow, economic consultants say). It occurred to me that the question to ask is how can a modern little city have lost its identity? Do they think identities are something that can be thought up by committees?
What’s called culture in Nanaimo is a top-down affair funded mostly by City Hall. Remember the “Nanaimo: Cultural Capital of Canada” embarrassment?
Here’s what you have when you have a healthy organic cultural scene: ferment. A rich, interconnected scene cross-pollinating. I’d suggest it’s part of a broader problem here and in similar cities which are the result of planning decisions made over the last several decades that tend to separate us — where we live, from where we work, study and interact. You recognize it immediately when for instance you might find yourself in a “College Town” where the campus wasn’t built out in the suburbs, the downtown didn’t go into the kind of decline we’ve seen here; cafe’s and galleries and theatres are a part of the every day life of the locals, not contrivances designed to charm tourists. The irony being of course that tourists are more charmed by the authentic than the contrived (San Francisco, Halifax come to mind).
That economic development commission sounds like one huge waste of tax payer money. I can’t believe we pay people to produce the huey these clowns come up with.
Give me the money, and I will get started on some real projects that will do some real good. By the end of the year at least, we’ll have something to show for the effort.
Note to Mayor: Next time you to want to employ a “brain trust” you might want to involve people with brains worth trusting.
I understand the consultants cost $60,000. In this post:
Ron reported that the budget for the commission itself is $29,000.
Terms of Reference etc here:
On the contrary, Frank. Nanaimo has an active subversive cultural element that meets in churches, bars, clubs, coffee houses and similar humble venues for music, poetry, dance and theatre that extends far beyond the temple built with public dollars and which continues to consume some $5 in operating funds for every butt put into a seat.
I agree that these resources are scattered all over the city and might be better presented and represented with a vibrant downtown locale as was suggested in several reports that have been provided to Council and left to languish, but lets not forget that these resources are here and available when called. The problem, as in so many areas, is that out-of-towners are viewed as more valuable than downtowners.
I knew this would be a difficult topic for the blog. It has to do with a genuine, authentic sense of place. There is here a strong local organic culture that requires little or no public subsidy (you’ll be glad to hear that). It grows out of painful class and racial tensions for instance and the fact that talent finds its way to the coast. You seem to be rushing to a position that requires me to defend public expenditure on culture. (And there’s a reference to a downtown cultural devide that I don’t understand so I’m not even slightly tempted to take that bait.) I’m sorry to disappoint you.
I introduce the topic because I think it reflects the broader problem of City Hall trying to create authenticity when the real task they face is asking “how has this place lost its authenticity”?
Does art have a role in answering that question? Yep.
Frank mentioned, (I think), that culture is funded mostly by City Hall and he referred to the “Nanaimo: Cultural Capital of Canada
After Nanaimo applied to the Department of Canadian Heritage for federal funds in the category of “population between 50,000 and 125,000”, it was awarded funding of $750,000 and it was named as “a” Cultural Capital of Canada for 2008 (for that population category).
Nanaimo was then marketed as “the” Cultural Capital of Canada. I agree with Frank about the “embarrassment” this created.
This water has long gone under the bridge I know but that funding could have left something of a real legacy behind that would still be supporting and nurturing local writers, musicians, dancers.
Larry McNabb is the Chairman of Parks,Recreation and Culture Commission,and has been for the last 50 years or so.I think this helps define the nature of ‘culture’ in Nanaimo.
The main reason Nanaimo received the cultural grant is because of the Maple Sugar festival that the City’s francophonie community hold and the bureaurocrats in Ottawa like that.
Can anyone define ‘culture’ for me? What would qualify Nanaimo as a genuine cultural capital of anyplace?
Etymology: Middle English, cultivated land, cultivation, from Anglo-French, from Latin cultura, from cultus, past participle
Date: 15th century
1 : cultivation, tillage
2 : the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education
3 : expert care and training
4 a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
5 a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic
6 : the act or process of cultivating living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media; also : a product of such cultivation
Very impressive.Thanks for posting this.
Yes, thanks Urbanismo. Inspired! I’ve put a link on the home page. Love the canopy over Commercial
Commercial Street has a pretty covering …. the other downtown attractions are still the same. A Port Theatre and a VICC which were all supposed to revitalize the downtown.
If this plan has valid commercial value, the private sector should be all over it. Not a bunch of academics playing around in the property development business with tax dollars.
Note: I did nothing to highlight the last few sentences in red.
Fixed, Jim…. some rogue code from who knows where.
b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time…
Comes closest to what I’m taking about… Although #6 is interesting. What’s the old joke? What’s the difference between yogurt and Nanaimo?
More broadly though I think of culture as any and all ways we express ourselves. The faux architecture at Woodgrove is as much our culture as is the symphony at the Port.
Could you say ‘culture’ is a communities fingerprint? If so, what IS Nanaimo’s culture?
When I first moved here in 1970 from the interior, Nanaimo was known throughout BC as a place noted for drinking, fighting and another word not suitable in polite company.
Have all the retirees from other points changed Nanaimo’s culture or simply watered it down?
The impression I have had of Nanaimo for a long time, is that it was a place where no one really expected to stay for too long. When the coal runs out, everyone moves, same for the fishing, the logging etc. Nothing really ever looked to have a sense of permanence.
A number of the crusty characters who have commented in this forum would be surprised I think to be called “polite company”, but anyway…
I like the notion of “fingerprint”. I’ve never known a place (We came here in ’92) that has such a sharply marked cultural divide: north and south, prosperous mostly white middle class north, lower income working class south (I know these are broad brush stroke generalizations). Social problems: poverty at the heart of them; Aboriginal community struggling for integration and prosperity. And another element that has a profound impact on the cultural reality of the place: its wealth is created elsewhere. The top employers are institutional, public sector, and as you point out retirees with the good sense to flee from Saskatoon bring welcome income to spend but it’s not the same as investment in a new, green, knowledge-based industry is it?
These and more make up our “culture”. When City Hall funds culture the temptation is great to support work that furthers City Hall’s agenda and probably asks us to look away from these realities and instead consider warm and fuzzy visions of happy Aboriginals and the earnest quilting clubs in the church basements.
I think historically Nanaimo has always been divided, whether you use the word cultural divide or not is not clear to me.
Nanaimo was built on the backs of the expendable, working class who toiled in the mines to line the pockets of those situated on Nob Hill. There has been some serious class warfare when the miners went on strike, and the stain of those times has carried forward for many generations. Nameless Chinese were totally expendable by the upper class who benefited most from the wealth extracted from the mines.
In addition to these ‘classes’ there were those who came to mine the miners, selling them alcohol, women, dope and who knows what else.
So historically we have three ‘classes’ who have always divided Nanaimo.
To translate those classes to definable cultures could be challenging and for greater minds than mine. You have the culture of the average working stiff just trying to keep body and soul together doing God awful word day in and day out.
You have the culture of upper class exploiters who keep by far and away the lion’s share of the wealth coming from the ground simply because they hold a position of privilege and are ‘connected’.
You have the culture of the middle class who mine the miners and never engage in any labor remotely approaching the danger or hardship experienced by the working class.
Are there similar threads running through Nanaimo till this day? Well, there are no miners anymore risking life and limb on a daily basis. However, there is a whole army of lowly paid food service and retail workers barely getting by, who are expected to support an ever increasing army of public sector employees who easily earn 4 or 5 times as much.
Whether you can really justify the difference is questionable.
The class divide in Nanaimo is decades old, what kind of ‘culture’ that actually encourages and nourishes is open for debate.
Sometimes I just seem to ramble on and on and on …:^)
I really like this sketch of history, race and class. These are among the realities of this place that an authentic cultural expression should stem from… The harsh realities that give this place its culture and identity are not funding favourites at the Parks & Rec’s Culture Committee.
A couple of thoughts on J.T.’S comment:
1.The nameless Chinese are still dying in the coalmines,in China, at the rate of 250-300 per month.
2.Monday the 24th being a ‘holiday’,the public service employees were at home being paid for not working,or receiving double pay if they were working,while the food service & retail workers were at their jobs paying for C.U.P.E.’S benefits.
Wayne — The relevance of point 1 completely escapes me. Point 2 is off topic and then some. As the author of this post about Nanaimo’s cultural climate I suggest you grind away at your anti-cupe axe on a new post.
I think it’s time for Nanaimo to start talking about “culture” and “the arts” separately, rather than assuming the latter is subsumed in the former. Culture doesn’t need cultivating – it’ll take care of itself. The arts do — and, yes, if we’re to have an interesting arts scene, public subsidy will have to continue to be part of the formula. Supposing otherwise is just fantasy.
I don’t think the Cultural Capital thing was an embarrassment, and it seems to me the notion that it was may be a function of confusing culture and art. To be sure, it didn’t do much for local artists (and my theatre company actively chose not to take part, partly because of its “top down” approach to building culture). But in the end it was largely focussed on the right elements in the community, including, most particularly, the culture of the Snuneymuxw.
Was it good value for money? Nahhh. But if the notion is that it was a failure because Nanaimo’s just a fightin’ town and shouldn’t get ahead of itself by calling itself a Cultural Capital, well, I disagree. (I guess I need to know more about why Frank and others think it was an “embarrassment.”)
Meantime, the local arts scene will continue to be built messily, cheaply, and mostly by leveraging sweat equity. It won’t happen by grand design. And this, it seems to me, is as it should be.
It seems to me that every culture has to have some kind of an stable base. Jim is quite correct in pointing out that this town was divided from its inception. First between the mine owners and the miners, with the merchants in between. This period built a downtown opera house in Nanaimo. Then between the forest owners and the loggers with the merchants in between. This era built a movie theatre and citizens flocked downtown to it. Now we have a much less stable balance between the real estate industry which drives dispersion, the drug trade which keeps moving for obvious reasons, retirees who could build a culture if they were united and had the energy, the socially served who struggle to meet the basic demands of life and their well served keepers, with the merchants in between. Culture survives under all conditions and may even be fertile, but to thrive and grow it needs stability. Our current situation provides no stability to spare. It is unclear whether we can maintain, let alone build, any broadly based culture under current conditions and if it can be done, how to do it. Maybe we should be looking at something like the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra as an example.
Let’s see now, we’re talking Nanaimo culture! Frank Moher . . . “I think it’s time for Nanaimo to start talking about “culture” and “the arts” separately, rather than assuming the latter is subsumed in the former.” Well said Frank!
May I describe the local art/culture scene succinctly as, by your leave, IMO:
GOOD ART: the freshet of art, the RED PILL . . . There is a freshet of red pill art often subsumed in the “span of control”.
Tim Landers poetry.
Margaret Tremblay’s poetry.
Debra L. Boder’s “Towards a place of meaning” 2006 SACRP thesis alternative to the present desecration of Diane Krall Plaza and
Nanaimo Concert Band.
Kids’ art hanging on Halliburton Park’s chain link fence, (Is it still there?)
Western Edge Theatre Company.
Fred Peter’s painting that are often shown at La Boca.
Individual painters and poets who become subsumed within organized groups that unfortunately are majority consumed by the blue pill.
First nations’ pre-historic petroglyphs: South Nanaimo.
Miners, Fishermen and loggers that built this little town as
Vivo Gallery Residences.
Malaspina Mural VICC, E. J. Hughes.
Nanaimo City Hall blog.
BAD CULTURE: the sewer of bureacratic control and OAP decrepitude, the BLUE PILL . . . oh so ubiquitously impenetrable.
The bad joke” Nanaimo Cultural Capitol of Canada 2008″ (along with Surrey and three others).
NRGH lobby: Robert Wegstine’s colourful ceramic mural. Gone desecrated. Enquiries as to what happened, no response!
NRGH garden: Gerald Carter’s “Wings of Health.” No credit for the sculptor, over grown and covered in soot.
Nanaimo Youth Services Association. Inadvertently destroyed a large mural on the wall of its reception during renovations. Enquiries as to what happened, no response!
Friends of Morden Mine Society site plan: a disgraceful exhibition of how a board of decrepit and resentful OAP’s rejected an imaginative plan that would have allowed neighbours’ and members kids’ to participate in painting a historic mural story. (A common occurrence among a wide proliferation of local OAP controlled boards and committees).
Diane Krall Plaza. A disgrace to any downtown. No wonder Diane wont visit.
Parks & Rec. Pretensions of public participation by top down bureaucratic “span of control”.
City of Nanaimo Master Plan; all 222 pages of bureaucratic baffle-gab!
Church basement “Christianity”.
Sprawl, real estate speculators who are aided and abetted by a decrepit mayor and council
Again Frank Moher: “Meantime, the local arts scene will continue to be built messily, cheaply, and mostly by leveraging sweat equity. It won’t happen by grand design. And this, it seems to me, is as it should be.”
Is it my imagination, or weren’t those rusty pillars put up in Diana Krall Plaza, supposed to be used to hold a set of piano keys which could provide some colour and a bit of cover? What ever happened to that idea which, I assume, was funded before the pillars were erected?
The keys are sort of represented in the brick work below the tuning fork arch. Urbanismo is right, you can’t have a plan for culture. Either you got people in charge of buying and caring for the art who have common sense and good taste, or you don’t. We don’t.
The problem with deciding what is ‘art’, is that it is subjective, it’s value is in the eye of the beholder. Frankly, I don’t want my tax dollars paying for the expense of buying and installing what some other person perceives as art.
Defining ‘good taste’ is also open for discussion. Personally I never did get Picasso, to me most of his work looks like the product of a tormented mind on acid. The person who recently spent $109,000,000 for one of his paintings, probably disagrees.
To restate, I don’t think municipal government should be taking my tax dollars and buying what somebody calls art. Artists with genuine talent should be commissioned by the well to do in the city who have prospered beyond most and in a spirit of community support, should bless their city with these magnificent works of art.
“Frankly, I don’t want my tax dollars paying for the expense of buying and installing what some other person perceives as art.”
NOW DO YOU GET MY POINT?
“. . . decrepit and resentful OAP’s . . .”
Urbanismo, whoever you may be. I am neither decrepit nor a resentful OAP. Neither am I an elitist snob, who thinks my vision is valid above all others.
If you can make a valid counter argument without resorting to insulting comments … go ahead.
Gentlemen: Your stern matronly administrator here looking over the top of her tri-focals — behave yourselves or I’ll come in there with a rolled up newspaper.
But …. HE started it!!!!
The inclusion of the historical sometimes less than pleasant realities of race class and empire — and how it even today still makes up part of modern Nanaimo’s psyche — in a discussion of the culture of a place is refreshing, useful and overdue.
Let’s stop trying to make a theme park out of this place and embrace it’s unique history and reality.
Frank, my problem with the “Cultural Capital” festival certainly wasn’t Nanaimo overreaching. It was the creation of very expensive City-Hall-friendly art that was contrived and artificial. Even I am tiring of hearing myself grind away at the failures of the old Downtown Nanaimo Partnership but this was their creation and it had all the problems associated with the organizaton: restricted to a few insiders who were unresponsive to their membership and not properly supervised by City Hall. Before I vow to never again mention the old DNP I’ll just add that today its legacy includes a theatre space that the City sunk about $600,000 into which has not been able to host any live theatre.
Jim , I share your concern about bureaucrats making expensive decisions about funding the arts. Their track record’s not great. We need to bypass the bureaucratic and advisory committee systems and get resources more directly to the art-makers. Art enriches. It’s an important investment. We’d be the worse for leaving it to the limitations of the free market.
I don’t think I was suggesting it be left entirely to the free market, although I do think that many of the performances at the ‘Theatre’ should be; but who exactly is it that defines what is truly ‘art’?
You suggest not to leave it to the ‘bureaucratic’, I presume you mean the ones at city hall? I would guess it would still wind up in the hands of the bureaucratic, just in another form.
Art being supported by it’s patrons is a good system, providing there are still those privileged among us who feel honor bound to contribute to society by supporting the arts.
A cultural anecdote: about five years ago I was wandering around the galleries in Victoria with friends.
Visiting the Winchester Galleries there was on display a beautiful 8’x8′ Shadbolt.
Gunter, the gallery owner, hearing we were from Nanaimo, told us the C$50,000.00 work of art had just been purchased by a buyer from, guess what, NANAIMO!
Sneered I, yuk, there is no one, in Nanaimo, so sophisticated!
Of course being my usual cynical self I thought Gunter was patronising us rubes from the sticks.
But on, no, no, no!
Some time later I was visiting the good gentleman who keeps my money comfy and yes you guessed it, shocks upon shocks, there was the glorious Shadbolt hanging behind his desk.
Ummmmm, i guess we are not all heathens . . . so let’s build on what we’ve got . . .
I think Jim was correct when he said: “Artists with genuine talent should be commissioned by the well to do in the city who have prospered beyond most and in a spirit of community support, should bless their city with these magnificent works of art.” (I ignore his reference to “genuine talent” as this will be defined by the patrons who commission the work.)
Whatever happened to the idea of public benefactors who wish to leave their mark in art upon the city. We do have such people. Are we treating them well or turning their benevolence over to some sort of public art committee. (Be it noted that I really do not know the answer to this question. How do we handle such matters? Are we encouraging it or have we found it easier, as in so many other things, to leave it to bureaucrats and the public purse?)
Frank Murphy wrote:
“Before I vow to never again mention the old DNP I’ll just add that today its legacy includes a theatre space that the City sunk about $600,000 into which has not been able to host any live theatre.”
I certainly agree with you about the DNP in its previous incarnation. Have the recent changes helped?
As for Nanaimo Centre Stage, which is the theatre space you refer to: while I think it was (still is) a worthy initaitive, it was badly mismanaged at the beginning, though by the Centre for the Arts Nanaimo, I believe, rather than the DNP. (Mind you, there was overlap in terms of individuals involved.)
Once an arrangement was made for Theatre BC to move into and manage the space, it began to work pretty well and was being regularly used (including, yes, for theatre performances). However, when Theatre BC, along with the rest of us, had its gaming funding clawed back by the province, it had to move out and much of that activity ceased. That’s where it rests now, with the venue under the management of CAN again, who are trying to get it back up to speed. Hopefully, with new management in place, they’ll succeed.
I know all this because, in addition to following early planning for the space (I had hoped our theatre company, Western Edge, would perform there), I now find myself in the position of managing the building next door, the Nanaimo Entertainment Centre (formerly The Caprice Theatre). Because the city-bought space wasn’t ready on time, that’s where we ended up performing, and it is now increasingly being used by other producers and concert promoters as well. (Great stand-up comedy night there last night.) Nevertheless, both venues are needed in Nanaimo, and I look forward to seeing Nanaimo Centre Stage busy again.
Jim Taylor wrote:
“I don’t think I was suggesting it be left entirely to the free market, although I do think that many of the performances at the ‘Theatre’ should be; but who exactly is it that defines what is truly ‘art’?”
If theatre in Nanaimo were left entirely to the free market, you would have amateur theatre only — which is, of course, the situation that pertained here up until the late ’70s. Amateur companies often do very good work, but having just amateur companies is not a formula for a varied or sophisticated theatre scene. So then the question becomes: how interested is Nanaimo in having such a theatre scene (or, for that matter, visual arts scene, literary scene, dance scene, etc., etc.), and how much is such a scene worth economically to the City?
Books such as “The Creative City” suggest it’s worth quite a bit. As for the first question, apparently we are interested enough to commit $2 per person per year to cultural funding — that’s the amount from your civic taxes that goes to culture each year, Jim.
In any event, I return to an earlier point: if we’re to have an interesting arts scene in Nanaimo, public subsidy will have to continue to be part of the formula. Supposing otherwise is just fantasy. There are, by the way, plenty of patrons around — they make donations to the various arts organizations in town sometimes very generous ones. But all parts of the formula — public subsidy, patronage, and, of course, earned revenue (ie., box-office) are essential. Sorry. That’s just the way it is.
Barton/Leier have opened a new gallery in Studio NA on Chapel Street. It is a gem. It is like walking into one of Leier’s paintings; totally great. It has to be one of the most beautiful little stores on the west coast.
Also, I had a little tour of the Studio NA project. Its a lovely little place. Some of you stuck out there in the cultural wasteland of the the suburbs might want to consider moving downtown. It might help you get over what you’ve been missing.