Thursday, February 12, 2009

$1 Billion

That’s the total estimated costs for Olympics-related security in 2010, as finally confirmed by the federal government today. Organizers had originally budgeted one-fifth that amount. I guess this helps pay for all the helicopters that have been buzzing overhead in Vancouver during the past week as part of various “training exercises.” Nothing like going into full lockdown mode so we can all safely watch men and women hurl themselves down mountains or slap a little black disc across the ice. And so what if that means residents and business owners in the line of fire, as it were, have to put their lives and jobs on hold for two weeks or more as perimeter fencing is erected around their homes and stores? It’s all in the spirit of fun and cross-cultural bonding.

It’s exactly one year from today that the whole spectacle begins, and as you can tell I’m starting to get worked up. There are all sorts of celebratory events taking place across the city today, including a torchlight ski extravaganza on Grouse Mountain. I recommend, instead, hauling ass to the counter-torchlight parade being organized by the Olympic Resistance Network at Victory Square at 6 pm: details at This follows upon the 2nd Annual Poverty Olympics, which took place in the DTES on Monday. And a talk by Helen Lenskyj, a noted critic of the Olympics industry, on Tuesday (thanks, Myka, for the notice); I quote Lenskyj in my book, but alas I couldn’t go to her talk as I was at another event (see below).

In related news, Gary Mason reveals in today’s Globe that the city seems to have worked out a financing deal with a consortium of Canadian banks that will allow them to borrow approximately $800 million at a reduced interest rate of only 3% in order to pay back Fortress Investment and see that the troubled Athletes Village gets finished on time. This is good news, and while taxpayers are by no means in the clear yet, the situation is looking a lot better than it was several weeks ago. Kudos to Mayor Gregor for his quiet but intense negotiating on this one.

And kudos to City Council for also voting to cancel a plan to extend additional funding to the Downtown Ambassadors Program (DAP). A human rights complaint against Genesis Security, the private firm that staffs the program, and the Downtown Business Improvement Association, which will continue to pay for it in its current jurisdictional mandate, has recently gone forward at the BC Human Rights Tribunal. It alleges that the DAP’s coordinated intimidation of the street homeless population in the Downtown Eastside essentially amounts to a violation of the right to public assembly, and that in targeting some of the most marginalized populations in the city (Aboriginal people, the homeless, the addicted, and the mentally ill) is fundamentally discriminatory. (Lenskyj has noted that our DAP is directly modeled on a similar “hospitality force” put in place in Atlanta in advance of the 1996 Summer Olympics.) My friend Jamie, who actually covertly trained with Genesis as part of an art project he is working on relating to the DAP, gave a deposition as part of the complaint, and is keeping me informed about its progress. 

In the last post I reported on the rethink at City Hall about cultural programming and funding, and the possibility that we might get an independent Arts Council. Apparently opinion is divided on this issue, both among councillors and arts administrators: check out this item from The Georgia Straight. This is an issue I also will keep tracking. The same item in the GS also reports that attendance at this year’s PuSh Festival exceeded 24,000 and that Club PuSh, in particular, was a roaring success. Hurrah!

On Tuesday Alana and I went to see battery opera’s site-specific piece Lives Were Around Me. We were part of an intimate audience of three that assembled at the Alibi Room at 8 pm (we arrived earlier for a dinner, which was discounted by 10%, a nice surprise). After signing a liability waiver, we began following battery opera’s dapperly dressed David McIntosh east on Alexander Street. McIntosh was a charming, if cryptic, guide (“You can’t believe everything you hear” was the one line he kept repeating); he led us to the Firehall, on Cordova, where we were eventually met by Adrienne Wong (we would also later encounter Paul Ternes), who was more talkative, although no more understandable. This was because the text of the walking tour we were taking of the Downtown Eastside was freely adapted from James Kelman’s Translated Accounts, an abstruse, Kafkaesque novel made up of monologues detailing instances of surveillance, arrest, detention, and torture carried out in an unnamed police state. The effect was deliberately disorienting, forcing us to reexamine a part of the city that has historically been overdetermined with meaning, not to mention over-policed by various state apparatuses invested in the interpretation of that meaning. However, I think in the end the text dominated too much, and that the piece was perhaps overconceptualized dramaturgically, to the point where external intrusions—that is, the very space and community where the event was taking place—seemed to flummox our guide. 

This was most evident at the bar we entered midway through the piece. Like any bar in that part of town, it was filled with a larger-than-life cast of characters, and while a table had been reserved at the back for us (complete with a complimentary beer each) we were sharing the space with Bobby and his friend. We soon learned both just been released from jail and were interested in making conversation, and perhaps more (Bobby seemed to take a particular fancy to yours truly, displaying his tattoos, and offering up multiple hugs). But our guide, while polite with Bobby and tolerant of his interruptions to a point, kept telling him that she had to keep to her schedule, and consequently kept drawing us back to the tale she was telling. In other words, despite the piece being all about looking at/for/through evidence (we later had a tour of the Vancouver Police Museum, next to the Firehall, which was more than a little creepy), the material lives occupying the site in which the performance was taking place seemed ancillary to the abstract representation of various extreme scenarios of livability. To be sure, the juxtaposition of textual site and cited text necessarily prompted me to import other spaces as dramatic referents, some of which made me feel more, some less, vulnerable; none of which gave me any clearer sense of my bearings. But, overall, the performance seemed more interested in exploring the internal psychic excavation of various spatial archives (broadly and very sketchily defined) than it was in precipitating an external bodily encounter with the full repertoire of this particular place’s experiences (on the “archive” and the “repertoire,” see Diana Taylor). Nevertheless, in terms of the latter, the neighbourhood—and Bobby (who resurfaced, magically, at the end of the tour) especially—did not disappoint. Lives were around us. We, too, had an audience. All we had to do was look.


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