Advocates push to boost economy through the arts

Promoting White Rock and the Semiahmoo Peninsula as an arts destination doesn
Promoting White Rock and the Semiahmoo Peninsula as an arts destination doesn't necessarily require huge investment, advocates say, pointing to street performers such as singer-guitarist Ed Westphal as an example of providing an arts-friendly environment.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson photo

A consensus is developing among local arts advocates that now is the time for pragmatic action – or a series of small pragmatic actions – to ensure that the arts becomes an economic cornerstone of White Rock and the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

Following on the theme of the recent White Rock city-sponsored open house and community forum on arts, culture and the economy on June 27, practicing artists and event producers contacted by the Peace Arch News seem to agree that there is an abundance of talent locally to make White Rock and South Surrey an arts destination in the Lower Mainland – even for people across the Pacific Northwest.

What is needed is not large-scale handouts, but small scale investment by local business and local government, as well as members of the public willing to offer support, whether it’s buying a piece of art or paying for a ticket to a musical or theatrical event.

Geoff Giffin, a member of White Rock’s current Arts Economic Task Force – who has produced for the White Rock Players Club and is a founding partner of successful concert and theatre producer Peninsula Productions – said the involvement of business is a key step that can be as beneficial for the companies as the artists.

“What’s happened in places like Chemainus and Ashland, Oregon and various other communities that depend on the arts for their livelihood, is a recognition by the business community that investing in the arts is not just another charity they have to give to, but a fundamental basis for making them more successful,” he said.

“We have everything from our end to provide (an arts community),” said artist and arts advocate Chris MacClure, also a member of the Arts Economic Task Force and co-owner with his wife Marilyn Hurst, of the Golden Cactus Gallery on Russell Avenue.

“We need the public to be able to respond to it – and that’s where we need the businesses’ assistance to make that happen.”

The contribution of business need not be onerous, MacClure said. Sponsorship of a local artist for a year could be simply a matter of allocating their art (or decoration) budget to purchasing works by the artist or displaying the artist’s work in a public business space, or linking an artist’s website to the business website.

“We were talking with a builder last night about, rather than looking at buying a piece of sculpture for a building, putting aside 500 or 700 square feet in a high-profile space, which would be donated to the city for displays or use by artists or arts groups. He wasn’t averse to that at all – in many ways it would be a lot simpler for him than buying a sculpture.”

MacClure said he’d also like to see a city-sponsored event that would introduce interior designers, developers, local business owners, real estate companies and organizations to Peninsula-based artists and their work.

He is also opposed to the time-honoured notion that artists can be expected to donate their works to community organizations’ causes for free.

Inevitably, artists will donate to the community in some measure, he said, but that donation must be balanced with some respect for the time, labour and expense that goes into creating their work.

But by the same token, experience of viable arts communities elsewhere has shown that artists and arts groups who expect to be supported by the community – and become part of an arts destination –  need to achieve a consistent standard, he said.

“People don’t mind paying the money, but the work has to be worthwhile,” he said. “There is no room for mediocrity any more.”

Giffin said he also believes arts groups and individual artists have an obligation to put their best foot forward.

“I would like the theme for White Rock to be ‘excellence in the most beautiful place on earth,’” he said.

“I would like people to think that if they come out here for a show they can expect excellence – if you build that, that’s what people will come to.”

But he said the city’s busking program, which he has also helped promote, has proven that an art-friendly environment doesn’t have to be all about costly events.

“One of the things I’d love to see is more involvement in street performance art,” he said.

Phil Davey, well-known locally as both a sound and lighting man for concerts, has also put a lot of his own money where his mouth is in promoting musical events and championing the work of young musical artists in the community.

“There’s such a wealth of talent in this town and no way to fund it,” he said.

“Somebody has to be prepared to step up to the plate.”

He and fellow musician and frequent collaborator Jim Black are working on providing as many performance opportunities for musicians as possible – particularly young local players – including the recent Canada Day by the Bay celebrations and the upcoming Spirit of the Sea Festival.

But while he finds current city council very approachable, he feels the developing scene is still hampered by popular misconceptions among the public.

For instance, many believe Spirit of the Sea is paid for by the city.

“It has run for some 63 years as a local independent event – it’s not put on by the City of White Rock,” Davey said.

He also feels that not nearly enough credit has been given by the public to the Semiahmoo First Nation for its willingness to allow the Semiahmoo Park bandshell to be used for concerts that help promote the local music scene.

“They have done, and continue to do, a tremendous amount for the city,” he said.

Lack of performance venues is a continued problem cited by both Davey and Giffin.

“Right now we have no real venues,” Davey said.

“The Coast Capital Playhouse holds 220 people, which is not really big enough for a big event.”

Alicia Ballard – organizer of the Virtuosi Inraganti Collective, which presented the FiberFusion mural at White Rock Museum and Archives last year – said she would prefer practical actions to continuing discussions on the role of the arts in the city, which have been ongoing for several years.

“Platitudes are not getting anyone anywhere,” she said. There is a huge arts community here, but it’s not being embraced by the city by any stretch of the imagination.

“Let’s pick one thing a month and support that – we don’t want people to be overwhelmed.”

Lack of space for the arts in White Rock, outside of the White Rock Community Centre – which has an ongoing commitment to visual art displays – is a continuing problem in promoting the city as an arts destination, she agreed.

“There are no walls in the city. The city should be looking at the museum as a viable international venue – about the only one we have. They should be looking at some sections of the promenade. They should be looking at the library.”

And Ballard said she is particularly wary of the bureaucratic model when it comes to administrative decisions in the city that directly affect the arts.

“People working in a paid position related to the arts, in any capacity, should be, preferably, local and have some background in the arts,” she cautioned.

“We need to find people who are qualified.”


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