Friday, March 16, 2012

More Arts Deaths (and some ideas for rebirth)

I was distressed to read in today's Globe and Mail that the annual Siminovitch Prize in theatre, awarded on a rotating basis to the best playwrights, directors, and designers in this country, and at $100,000 won of the richest arts awards in this country, is coming to an end after this year's competition.

This comes on the heels of Marsha Lederman's article in yesterday's Globe about the increasingly bleak cultural landscape here in Vancouver, what with the Playhouse's recent demise being followed by news of the imminent shuttering of the historic Ridge Cinema, an exodus of talent from the region in the performing arts generally, and, just today, the announcement that Book Warehouse, one of the last independent chains in the city, and a strong supporter of the arts, would be closing operations after 32 years in business.

And it's not like we can look to the provincial government for support, with Minister for Community, Sport, and Cultural Development Ida Chong's recent remarks on the Playhouse's demise indicative of the art-as-afterthought, sink-or-swim mentality of the BC Liberals to culture generally. And is an appeal to the robocalling Tories in Ottawa is even an option?

That leaves the city. And while it may be, as Heather Deal notes in the same Georgia Straight item above where Chong is quoted, that there can be no more bailout money for the Playhouse, if Gregor Robertson's Vision council is serious about making Vancouver the most sustainable city in the world, then part of their plan has to include a comprehensive cultural strategy for the city.

As part of that plan, they should look at the precinct around the civic theatres on Hamilton Street, especially if the Vancouver Art Gallery does indeed move to Lardwell Park. Presently the Queen E and Playhouse are just containers for the art presented on their respective stages, and the area adjacent them is a dead zone (except for the masses of people crossing the viaduct to get to Rogers Arena for the Canucks games). This needn't be the case, even when the theatres themselves are dark. The plaza outside the Queen E is a wonderful space that is woefully underused. Why isn't the restaurant that used to be there operating, preferably with a star chef at the helm? With the Library Plaza and CBC studios nearby, Gastown and SFU Woodward's mere blocks away, and a resited VAG potentially in the offing, the whole area could become a cultural hub of the sort that works so well in Melbourne, with its performing arts precinct in Southbank (taking a page from that other Southbank, in London) and galleries and civic plazas in nearby Federation Square.

Melbourne is often cited alongside Vancouver as one of the most livable cities in the world. In addition to tackling the affordability and housing issues that will surely threaten to displace us from that list in the very near future, folks at city hall would do well to look at the cultural planning and infrastructure that has gone into making Melbourne a hotbed of artistic production and export. And I'm not just saying this because I'm a huge fan of Chunky Move.

Recommended reading on this front for Mayor Robertson and Councillor Deal is Jon Hawkes' book The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: Culture's Essential Role in Public Planning (2001). Needless to say, Hawkes is from Melbourne.


No comments: