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The State of Cultural Stewardship
in the Okanagan
AN OKANAGAN INSTITUTE SPECIAL REPORT
BY DON ELZER
I began my journey into the world of cultural
stewardship first as an artist, then as a journalist and an economic development
analyst, and finally as an artist again. Today, like most artists I wear many
hats in an attempt to balance my creative life with my economic survival.
My 25 years journey has been an adventure, and I have settled into a
place where I spend most of my time thinking about how organizations and
places work. It's not far from creating a painting or a sculpture, but perhaps the
biggest difference is that now I attempt to figure out how entire communities
and groups of people fit into the economic architecture of things so that they
may live free and creative lives.
Something that I yearn for myself.
I often think about that saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach".
I've come to believe that there's some real truth to that, but at the same
time I wish that all things were that simple. Especially where culture meets
I have come to understand that today, the arts are really all about
money. Either an artist works to attract it in some way, or repel it away from himself
or herself. It's the two extremes of poverty and prosperity consciousness,
with artistic integrity seen as siding with poverty.
This struggle that exists within the arts has preoccupied culture for
centuries. I have found that for the most part working artists have become less
ested with poverty, more interested in being productive, and as a result eager
to take a rightful place within the economy. Not worried that their artistic
licence will be threatened by the notions of corporate interest.
It has to do with the dawning of a new confidence felt by creative people
in our ever more knowledge-based economy. And it's the kind of motivation
that excites someone like me who's always eager for social change.
The artist and changing times have always been a good fit. It's the stuff
that makes for good stories. It's my turn to tell a few.
A Brief Overview of Okanagan Culture
Here's my short-form interpretation of the "state of culture in the
Okanagan". This might be an abstract topic which could have many varying perspectives,
but it will provide a beginning point that might very loosely contain the following:
- There are many different cultures within the Okanagan Valley, and the
single culture is in fact a cultural mosaic.
- Culture is often truly defined by economic and social needs.
- The only genuine Okanagan Culture is owned by
- Working artists and creative producers on average earn far below the
national income average, and many remain in poverty.
- Cultural businesses, venues and institutions are running far below capacity
and remain stressed economically, resulting in many business owners, employees
and managers being under emotional stress.
- Many cultural businesses, venues and institutions are without
tourism strategies, audience development plans or business plans.
- There is a limited capacity for many cultural businesses, venues and
institutions to expand and realize full potential.
- While the culture that can be considered that of the "Okanagan Valley"
has both a rural and urban presence, culture, which is rural based and mixed
with agriculture and nature, remains key to any authentic cultural experience and
is worthy of building a significant audience.
THE SCULPTURE PARK IN THE MILL TOWN
A Personal Case Study
A memorable stint for me was a sculpture park in Lumby. The basic
premise was that this thing would create enough interest that downtown
beautification would happen, and then tourists would stop, transforming this
village from a mill town to a sort of art village.
A number of statistical analysis were presented, consultants were hired,
and community polling was conducted. The community became polarized,
and people took sides, cursed each other and made blood bonds. It came down
to the artist enviros vs. the loggers. I can remember having coffee with Ken
Smedley (a local arts activist) and him telling me, "Lumby? Why would you do this
in Lumby? There's okies in Lumby, and they could kill you".
Ken was kidding, but in fact he was half right. One of the long time
loggers, defending the old ways of the mill town, summed it up by saying,
"Smoke! That's not smoke ... that's the smell of money".
Yes, and the fly-ash on my car was where he made his deposit.
But when that smoke cleared, the loggers were on side, and even helped
with building the park and then took all the credit. Which was ok, since others
and I were cooked over the whole thing.
After seven years we could finally turn sod, only to discover that the
School District didn't want to move a set of goalposts to make room for the park.
I simply broke down. I guess in my mind, not moving the goal posts was
some sort of strange metaphor for a loss of a couple of years of creative energy.
What I wouldn't do for a sculpture park.
After a respite it turned out to be worth it. Much of what we predicted
would happen as a result of building the park did happen, at least as far as bricks
and mortar went. Storefronts were improved, pleasant streetscapes were built
complete with imitation gaslights, murals went up and a park trail a few
hundred meters long turned into a Salmon Trail of several kilometres. There was a
museum and new village office with log construction. Today all the storefronts
are filled, not to mention a building boom in residential neighbourhoods.
The population has changed. Most of the newcomers are from
Kelowna, Calgary, Vancouver and Germany. Once a place of only sawmills, it now
boasts everything from medical research to a cheese factory in a renewed
industrial area, all primarily because it's now perceived as an avant-garde place to
work and live, close to a wilderness playground.
People made money from this art idea, grants primed storefront
re-construction, stores are selling more, property values have gone up. The tax
base has been enhanced and some are making a bundle in real estate development.
But are there artists visible in this mix of activity?
No, not really.
After witnessing similar initiatives schemes, with similar results, I have
learned that the present way we approach such cultural initiatives that seek to link
the arts to the economy is flawed and in need of adjustment.
MEETING STEVEN THORNE
Urban vs. Rural - Artist vs. NGO and the Public Servant
There is a belief that began to surface in the 1990's that placed our cities
in the Okanagan as the primary source for our culture. There's probably
a number of things that contributed to such a belief including a nation
that was becoming more urbanized. But the primary driver was our citified
cultural institutions collectively becoming more influential.
This best example of this is Kelowna's decision to employ an Arts
Development Officer in the 1990's, whose job it was to develop cultural tourism
within the city. This position eventually led to the creation of a Cultural Services
Office within the Parks and Recreation Department, which still serves as a
model for medium sized cities today.
The person who first filled the position was Steven Thorne. He'd had a
teaching career in fine arts and a graduate degree in cultural development. For
the Okanagan he represented the first city employee who was defined only by
culture within city interests, and was a new ingredient the mix of artists,
non-profits and educational institutions.
And he could talk up a storm. Nobody came close to articulating a vision
of cultural tourism like Thorne, who went on the lecture circuit up and down
the valley priming the future like a huckster out of the back of a wagon.
This was the pivotal period during which the cities in the Okanagan
would begin to position culture as primarily an urban experience.
It's been almost 10 years since I first met Stephen Thorne. He was
going through his transition from working for the City of Kelowna as the Arts
Development Officer into a new role of trying to initiate a valley-wide cultural
development project called the Okanagan Cultural Corridor.
I, on the other hand, was creating art in my studio, and at the same
time managing downtown Vernon's summer event series for the millennium.
He had heard of my studio and was curious about this artist who sat on
the economic development commission in the North Okanagan, was a
Chamber of Commerce president, and who was able to juggle these two
An anomaly, he surmised, and was mostly right.
Thorne was assembling an inventory of all the cultural attractions in
the Okanagan and we had met briefly in Kelowna, me in khaki shorts, hair
down to my shoulders, a beard and a black Aussie hat, Stephen in an extremely
black suite with a very thin tie.
I thought he was weird.
Nevertheless, we had a pleasant visit. He explained the concept of
cultural tourism and the tremendous potential that it offered. I had
independently learned about it already, but was fascinated to learn his interpretation, and
the differences between our approaches.
According to my notes, he mentioned "artist" 6 times, "the arts" 12
times and "wineries" and/or "vineyards" 37 times. So my first impression was that
he was predisposed to the culinary arts more than the visual or performing arts.
I remember wondering whether I should have worn a black suit when
trying to convince the loggers about the sculpture park, and whether maybe they
would have been more responsive. But then I also could feel the discomfort of such
a tight tie around my neck.
Thorne explained to me the logic of the Corridor, which would build
from the success of the Okanagan Wine Festival and the establishment of
the "Okanagan Wine Route", a growing number of agritourism attractions
and the new Cultural District in Kelowna. All of this was mixed with certain
trends supported by a huge number of studies that indicated that wealthy baby
boomers would come here to eat, drink, shop and sleep.
It all seemed like a good idea to me, although I did wonder about
plugged arteries, especially those that would result from all that touristtraffic.
Later that summer Stephen paid another visit to my studio where I was
able to convince him to sample my homemade wine. After a bottle of the stuff,
his more formal demeanour began to soften, and I discovered that there was
much to be learned from him about the complicated (and often
compromising) machinations of bureaucracy, the politics of culture, and the many masters
of culture policymaking.
On balance, I think Stephen Thorne's heart and head were in the right
place, but there were simply too many power struggles, and too much self interest
for his vision to remain intact at least as it would benefit artists. Upon
reflection, I think that his vision was clear and compelling, but he was overwhelmed
by the obstacles he encountered as he tried to navigate the difficult landscape
of government, business, the tourism sector and the arts and culture
community. It is a tragedy that he did not survive, and moved on to other challenges
in other places.
By the time he left the Okanagan, most of the organizations which would
be the eventual beneficiaries of his work and vision were eager to distance
themselves. For some of us, who would became involved in the work afterwards,
we have a very different view that he was in fact a pioneer in developing an
exciting and rigourous regional arts perspective that thoughtfully links the arts
to the economy.
There were flaws to some of his work and ideas, in my opinion. Some
of what he promoted actually marginalized both individual artists and the
rural part of the Okanagan. Both were seen more as instruments to feed the
urban centres and were not considered worthy of becoming prosperous and
independent in their own right.
DISTRICTS AND CORRIDORS
Cultural Tourism Means Bricks and Mortar
By 2002, if you asked most artists if they knew about Stephen Thorne,
most of them would recall, "Oh yes, that guy who was doing that inventory
of artists for downtown Kelowna," referring to his efforts assembling the
work for the Cultural Corridor.
The "Corridor" and the "District" became interchangeable in the minds
of most artists and agencies, at least those outside of Kelowna. The confusion is
a significant liability not acknowledged by the cultural leadership in Kelowna
or by the other stakeholders in the valley. Every urban centre in the
Okanagan dreams of constructing some similar variation of a "cultural district" that
includes clustering together cultural facilities and building art centres, all
driven by a belief that a cultural tourism anchor will be created in their city.
For Kelowna, the entire idea expanded in scope when the idea of a
cultural district would act as a catchment for a waterfront development that would
have within it public and private cultural facilities. This all became good logic
for investing public money to attract private money to build a new
downtown core just up the street from the old one. One that would also hopefully serve
as the Okanagan Valley's cultural centre. Which is why other communities in
the Okanagan have never liked the pitch.
The Cultural Corridor vision was different and less attached to bricks
and mortar and at the time was simply to define and market the Okanagan
Valley as a "corridor of cultural experiences".
I suspect that somewhere along the way Thorne discovered that the real
cultural tourism potential in the Okanagan was not in the cities but out on
country roads. The statistical data that supports this view is convincing and
represents an overlooked part of our economic development planning valley-wide.
By the time the Cultural District was established, significant dollars had
been spent both developing infrastructure and marketing city experiences.
However, the genuine visitor interest actually existed within rural and
nature-based experience. One of the anchor cultural attractions in the district was and still
is the Kelowna Wine Museum in the Laurel Packing House. It attracts about
30,000 visitors annually, which is roughly the same number that visit the
In the Upper Mission, Summerhill Winery attracts more than 100,000
visitors annually. Even the Kelowna Land and Orchard Company in East
Kelowna attracts 60,000 visitors; and across the lake on the Westside, Mission Hill
Winery attracts more than 130,000 visitors per year.
In reality it was not urban-based culture anchoring cultural tourism,
but rural-based culture anchoring not only tourism, but also the Cultural District.
So what Steven Thorne attempted to do with the corridor was to apply
economic factors to urban-based public attractions through cultural tourism,
and then to further leverage positive impacts by adding wineries and
agritourism attractions into the mix. This would create an economic engine that
regional governments would recognize as being worthwhile to invest in.
If the Cultural District concept was expanded to include the entire
valley, then a regional destination would be created that links the urban cultural
attractions and wineries together. But, let there be no mistake, the key
beneficiaries were far beyond Thorne's sketch of the concept. Downtown Kelowna,
its public institutions, private developers and wineries would be the ones who
had the most to gain from this big picture.
So while the corridor and the district were different by name, they were
very much connected.
The foundation logic of this new cultural tourism approach could be
found surfacing everywhere in the valley by 2000. In support of Thorne, Wayne
Wilson director of the Kelowna Museum and key supporter of both the Cultural
District and the Corridor was there from the beginning and would write,
"The physical proximity of venues that constitute the Cultural District ease
much more than the movement of tourists and visitors. Notions of "closeness"
almost certainly have a positive impact on the area's innovative capacity. In
industrial settings and in the high-tech sector, for example, proximity is seen
to engender a competitive and entrepreneurial environment that enhances
growth. Moreover, it has long been recognized that the urban agglomeration of
firms increases their productivity."
Whether its District or Corridor, the past decade has led to a more
densified downtown Kelowna, more timeshares and more visitor traffic. Of course,
there's really no plan or idea about how the artist fits into this picture, what
benefits they can expect, individually or collectively. And, no idea whether cultural
or creative sustainability will be achieved at any time in the future.
But one thing is for sure, there has been some pioneer thinking
involved. Pioneers walk a tough road. They're never seen as pioneers until after
they're dead, kind of like when a painting gets its value. Being the first to
traverse unmapped territory is a thankless task, and rarely is there success without
the presence of cuts and bruises.
But there are others before Steven Thorne who could relate to that fact.
THE SEEDS OF COUNTER-CULTURE
The Grassroots Philosophy of Community Building
When I lead a sculpture workshop I will often surprise participants
after they have created their very nice first compositions they have defined
as benchmarking their inner soul and their
perfect creative opus, to destroy it - completely.
Usually the response is shock with much disillusionment and even
comments directed to my twisted sense of humour. But in fact, it's about
detachment and being disciplined enough to be able to say at any time, "This is
clearly not working, I must start from scratch". From that point there comes a
return to basics.
The Phoenix rising from the ashes is a myth that has historically spoken
to humanity, it's a myth that reminds us of pain, but also proposes new
nities. We never forget what we have learned, which means little is actually
lost, but much more to be gained.
A return to basics would be a healthy process for the cultural
community today, a key process to understanding our cultural roots.
In the modern sense, studying culture in the valley happened long
before discussions about the District and Corridor were concepts; there were
already many people up and down the valley that contributed to the formation of
Arts Councils, galleries and cultural attractions, most of whom were artists. But
it's interesting; while history is very much part of culture, we're not very good
at retaining the history of how local culture is developed and maintained. As
well, we haven't been that good at acknowledging the people who have
contributed to such efforts, which become largely forgotten over time.
There was always a vibrant counter-culture in the Okanagan, while it
was not as visible as the one that developed in the Kootenays, it still provided
enough voice and energy that local governments would support the role of culture
in each part of the Okanagan. There were public art galleries and museums
and heritage sites, but collectively they were seen as financial liabilities by
government, and often the well being of the individual artist while being included
in the talk, rarely become part of the walk.
Peter Chataway, an architectural designer and activist in Kelowna,
became involved with the Kelowna and District Arts Council in 1988. He and his
partner Pat Munro had moved to Kelowna from Vancouver in the 1970's and
had been involved with the anti-war movement. He's the first to say that
the Okanagan was considered a political backwater with a conservative outlook.
"What we had learned in our travels to places like Nicaragua that
theatre and performance could really help drive education and a political message",
so as a result Chataway and others involved themselves with the local arts council.
"In 1988, the local arts council sent us to a BC Arts Council conference
in Vancouver where playwright John MacLachlan Gray spoke. He said every
municipality should have a written cultural policy."
So like pilgrims returning home, they brought this message back to
Kelowna where they joined with others including Jennifer Hindle in a collective effort
to produce theso-called Lavender Report of October 16, 1989, named for the
colour of the cover. The report would prove seminal, creating the climate
that would eventually incorporate culture and aspects of liveability into
Kelowna's Official Community Plan.
"The heritage and cultural movement in the Okanagan was really
brought about by activism", maintains Chataway.
THE TOTAL SUM OF EARLY VISIONS
The Core of a New Culture
I maintain that the total sum of a cultural image in a community can
be found within the grant proposals that are written to create or
maintain cultural initiatives. I think that in the valley we could find the
foundation of our modern perspectives of local culture in the creation of our public
art galleries, theatre groups, downtown beautification projects and are
within our efforts to retain our heritage buildings.
The building of the South Okanagan Art Gallery required forward
thinking at the time it was one of the first public buildings to incorporate solar
energy. The creation of the French Cultural Centre and the Indian Friendship Centre
in Kelowna represented some of the first groups of people in the
community who would define themselves as a cultural entity within the local culture.
The Laurel Packing House being preserved as a heritage building really
lead to more buildings being protected and contributed to the idea of a
heritage location that could house cultural events and agencies. The logic that
established support for downtown beautification programs up and down the
valley all contributed to this sense of place that had a cultural component.
Caravan Farm Theatre, the Vernon Farmers Market and Powerhouse
Theatre, the Kalamalka Writers Guild and George Ryga Centre in Summerland
have each in their own way represented key arts-centric inspirations that
would foster the notion of artist-run initiatives.
The Naramata Centre is another inspiration, in its presentation of
visionary ideas and practices that have become known around the globe. It places
creativity into a spiritual context, and has had a significant influence on the
evolution of the arts and culture in the Okanagan.
That bridge between art, wellness and creativity would become most
evident in Vernon, where the Downtown Vernon Association secured funding to
hire mural artist Michelle Lougherty to lead a team of troubled youth to paint
giant murals to augment the heritage themes of that community.
The project would last several years and would spread to other
communities in the valley and beyond. The funding proposal became part of the core
cultural message as it created a convergence between the arts, downtown
re-development and an improved sense of community wellness all supported
by an economic argument.
The list goes on, but for the most part when we investigate the vision,
planning and process of these entities as they apply for government funding, a
similar language occurs and a sense of a localized philosophy that has evolved from
a certain common origin. And it's not surprising because at the core of
advancing local culture are found a number of the same people, still making the
wheels turn, with many of them having had roots in the counter-culture of
The counter-culture was busy creating alternative approaches to
mainstream society, it was creating housing alternatives and a "wholistic" sense of
community, it was about freedom and creativity. By the time people like Steven
Thorne and other cultural bureaucrats arrived on the scene a shift was happening.
That shift was less about philosophy and more about money.
Questionable Interpretations that Neglect Better Possibilities
By 2000, it was appearing that support for culture was growing within
the realm of community planning. The creation of the Rotary Centre for
the Arts and the Vernon Performing Arts Centre support this notion,
which ended up serving as a new example of the shifting attitudes about the
value of culture community support for culture as opposed to sports and
Vernon had been attempting to build a sports complex, which is now
the Vernon Multiplex, and had a very difficult time achieving public
support through referendum. The performing arts centre received little resistance,
by comparison. This surprised both planners and politicians and exposed the
fact that many ageing baby boomers were seeking different possibilities within
their idea of better living.
During that period, Steven Thorne and others had been able to
assemble much of the cultural logic that existed in the Okanagan including an
inventory of hundreds of artists and attractions, which if mixed with consumer
trends, tourism statistics and successful examples of cultural development from
other places could provide an exciting picture of what could be done here.
It provided a foundation for a growing number of funding proposals
and organizational plans that resulted in a lot of bricks and mortar projects
throughout the valley and especially in Kelowna. But over the years I have found
that the analysis that most glean from the logic even today is deeply flawed.
When applying community economic development to anything, if you
make a comparison to another community or effort, you had better know a lot
about the comparison and in particular, if it's applicable.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Shaw Festival at Niagara on
the Lake are still used as inspiring examples of what can be done here, but
what's missing in the comparison to the Okanagan is that Toronto and its 3
million plus people has an enormous impact, for which there is nothing
comparible here. The study of cultural tourism is a fairly new science, and wishful
thinking isn't helpful to creating visitor and audience development plans that will work.
In almost every cultural planning document in the Okanagan, from
funding proposals to reports, there is virtually no mention of enhancing the
livelihood of the artist or the creative worker. It's by far the biggest oversight in our
cultural planning and our overall approach to the arts and creativity.
Thankfully, there are a few exceptions.
The Osoyoos Indian Band navigated through a hundred years of
community economic development to finally arrive at a place where native values
and culture, nature and the prosperity of the individual remained intrinsic to
the goal of cultural development.
"We are very focused on the future, and we realize that we create this
future by our actions. The single most important key to First Nation self-reliance
is economic development preserving our culture is why we are in
business", explains Chief Clarence Louie.
There's much that can be learned by such getting back to basics.
With operations like the Nk'mip Desert Cultural Centre the Osoyoos
Indian Band will set the example for the development of Aboriginal Tourism in
the Okanagan and in the process will contribute to a working framework for
cultural tourism as a whole where the creative person is the element that success
is measured by, and not just the number of hotel room nights that are sold.
THE ARTIST OUT OF THE PICTURE
Cultural Development in a Creative World of Poverty
The key and most important thing within any cultural plan, is that art
whether it's a painting, performance or software has to be good
enough for the viewer to demonstrate an appreciation of value, by buying a
ticket or a painting or attending an exhibition.
Without excellence at the individual creative level, artistic success will not
be achieved, nor will it be achieved at the institutional or community level.
This really is the only meaningful benchmark for success, and for sustainability.
So if artists on average are earning $10,000 per year, what does that say about
the level of artistic excellence?
In most business sectors, income levels are the measurement that tells us
the level of success in the marketplace. Culture is more complicated because
we have never compiled enough data to tell us where and how artists make
income, and more importantly what the social and economic circumstances
are that impact the generation of revenue.
You would think that with millions of dollars that has been spent on
cultural planning in the Okanagan over the last few decades we would give us access
to the kind of data that would indicate the relative health of the sector, both
in itself and in relation to other sectors of the economy. But in fact culture
has become institutionalized, and non-profit service organizations and local
government departments appear to have placed their interests ahead of artists,
and this has become a significant problem.
THE ARTIST IN THE PICTURE
Shifting the Focus into the Creative Economy
We have to be bold enough to realize that there should be a distinction
made between the non-profit (NGO) sector and the creative work sector.
Culture, like tourism, is dependent on a robust public/private partnership that
provides a balance between business interests and community and the
The existence of these public and private interests creates a complicated
environment when considering job creation and business development. The
interests of the community-driven sector are different in terms of goals and
approach to development and sustainability than the private sector,
which includes the working artist.
While goals and approach may be different, both are equally valid, and
both require equal attention in order to deliver a cohesive cultural
development agenda within communities and regions. Administrators of venues, public
galleries, art organizations and educational institutions will largely be
concerned with funding programs to keep various venues subsidized and active.
However, while "cultural workers" within NGO's could be described as
"cultural managers" the cultural or creative self-employed workers made up of
artists, writers, designers and craftspeople could be called "cultural
producers". The two sectors are very different with regards to career needs and the way
they create revenue for themselves.
There is also a distinction between the Arts Sector and the Creative
Sector. The Arts Sector represents a narrow band of workers in the Okanagan, and
can often be confused with artists generally, which can include many
hobbyists. The Creative Sector is a larger band of workers and self-employed people,
which also includes career full-time or emerging artists and writers trying to make
a direct living from their craft.
It's within these dry descriptions that the seeds of a new cultural
development effort can be found.
Max Wyman, a longtime advocate for the arts in Canada and author of
The Defiant Imagination: Why Culture
Matters, also suggests that there needs to a new cultural development effort that contains more sophisticated
strategies. He writes that new technology and new media added to the traditional
arts would prompt a return of something that could be described as
"the Renaissance view of art, science and religion as holistically
Wyman puts this out as a challenge and also suggests that the arts need to
be more multicultural, because "as the role and makeup of the modern city
evolve, the opportunity exists for the cultural sector to establish (perhaps more
accurately, reclaim) for itself a role that places it firmly at the centre of public debate."
While Wyman believes that art education is key for bringing about this
new Renaissance, I would suggest that a few steps need to taken, that a new
economic framework needs to be developed and supported, one that creates
new benchmarks so that arts and culture can be measured in the same way
that other sectors are. Most importantly, a new development approach that
considers the artist or creative worker as the key and most critical factor when
seeking to develop culture.
I would be cautious about a one size fits all approach to culture that
assumes that a program delivery mechanism can be built nationally, I think this is
part of our problem today, our institutions hold the purse strings to dictate
culture to our creative people rather than the other way around.
Where Wyman is most correct is the idea of integrating a creative
workforce which could be described as having a job that creates meaningful new forms
of expression. The creative class is recognized as being composed of scientists
and engineers, university professors, poets and architects, to name a few. Their
designs are widely transferable and useful on a broad scale, as with products
that are sold and used on a wide scale. But the
Super-Creative Core is recognized as a group of creative workers that includes of a large range of occupations
(e.g. architecture, education, computer programming) with arts, design, and
media workers making a subset of this group.
Between the Cultural District and the Cultural Corridor hundreds of
thousands of dollars have been spend in various planning schemes, and I have
been part of that process at times. I was given the task of creating a sector and
product development strategy for the Corridor. From that process one basic
principle surfaced that should define the future of
good cultural work in the Okanagan.
That principle is: the audience and spending pie needs to become
significantly larger in the future than it is today, and the key beneficiaries of
greater revenues should be artists.
Within cultural tourism there has been recognition of the importance
of artists and the important role that they play within a corridor or district.
But artists are in no way dependent on tourism, however,
real cultural tourism is dependent on
real culture and artists. Regardless, culture will happen, with
or without tourism. But it's wise to know that artists, their work and their
work spaces are often the genesis of things like cultural districts which then grow
to encompass other community and tourism based priorities and eventually
Wayne Wilson would confirm that artists play a special role in the success of
Kelowna's Cultural District.
"Artists are, at once, businesses and the creators of much of the
District's dynamic flavour. They are, in many ways, the new "authenticity" of the
District. Like others, they invest money. Unlike others, they seem less
encumbered by the need for order and structure in their investment, and the
other stakeholders seem to know that intuitively".
Artists would argue they invest significant amounts of patience in the
creation of cultural institutions and cultural development initiatives, but for
the most part they are not considered important enough for the community or
its institutions to place energy into growing their income levels. Because, up
to now we have not applied the same energy, investment, rationale and logic
to artists as we have for constructing our cultural institutions.
THE NEW CHALLENGE
Creating Prosperity for Artists and Creators
Making a commitment to increasing income levels for working artists
will naturally increase audience levels for events, exhibits and collections.
This promise will also provide communities and the economy with new
foundation tools for applying community economic development.
At the core of keeping the promise, is knowledge about discretionary
income which is the amount of money consumers have left after they pay
for their living essentials. In the Okanagan, like the rest of Canada, we know
very little about tracking such spending on a local level.
The key questions that we will need to ask will be these: What is the level
of discretionary income in the Okanagan? Where is that discretionary
income being spent? And then: How can we increase the percentage of
discretionary income directed to the arts for the benefit of working artists?
Those same questions could be asked of visitors, temporary residents and
so on. But for the most part that approach would provide clues to what we
would need to do to have more spending retained in the community.
Creating a bigger pie is key to creating a collective effort. Today we are
fighting a growing number of artists and non-profits all seeking a piece of the
same audience. That interested audience is in fact very small, I call it the
CBC Sub-culture which is a community of people that share some common values
associated with nationalism, neighbourhood power, a concern for the
environment etc. I estimate this audience at only 15 percent of our total resident population
What we need to do is link to the other 85 percent of the population,
through very targeted goals and planning that goes beyond platitudes.
The challenge is whether the cultural community can remove itself
from building temples to better justify culture to the mainstream and begin to
nurture a distinctive cultural climate by our ability to enhance the unique
experiences that artists can provide the mainstream society.
This treasure is just barely tapped into and represents the core
attraction within cultural tourism.
It has been done before. We have learned to support Canadian content
to retain a publishing industry and support our musicians. We have built an
entire film industry that attracts productions from all over the world. All of
these came about through a combination of efforts from every level of
government and the corporate sector.
But such achievements have one thing in common, the individual artist
who provides creativity from a place.
So the effort is all encompassing. There is a difference between the needs
of the artist and the institution. Culture in the Okanagan is a mix between
rural and urban interests within a sweeping landscape of ideas and images. Just
as the storyteller and the audience collaborate to define a sense of place that
inspires a need to know about the beginning and how things work.
All of these things we call culture need to be kept alive through a
constant form of stewardship which involves all of us.
For artists themselves, a greater challenge exists: can a new approach to
this cultural stewardship be built that allows for prosperity without lessening
artistic freedom? That challenge awaits us.
The Working Artist
A lakefront resort needs a lake; and wine festival needs wine; a mountain top ski resort needs a mountain and culture needs artists.
As our society constructs consumerism, the experiences
that captivate our collective imaginations are always linked to
foundation products. Such products serve as anchor notions to
build a vast variety of experiences around.
In culture we would be hard pressed to reach
consumers with theatre that did not have actors, a gallery exhibit
without art, or a concert without music provided by musicians. A
recent example of this was the Writers Strike that presented
new scripts from being written for television. As it turns out,
the television production industry is quite fragile without
certain key pieces of creative infrastructure.
The event provided some insight into how creative
resources impact the economy.
Some 10,000 members of the Writers Guild of
America walked off the job November 5th 2007 seeking a greater
share of DVD profits and revenue from new media distribution
of films and television shows broadcast on the Internet,
iPods and cell phones. They would eventually return to work
three months later.
Jack Kyser, the chief economist of the L.A. County
Economic Development Corp., has said the 100-day strike cost the
county $2.5 billion. He added that the impacts included lost
wages from cancelled TV shows and films that were put on hold
as well as support services, ranging from limo drivers to
florists. He also took into account the wages lost due to the
cancellation of the Golden Globes.
Keyser maintainsthe entertainment industry
representing about $54 billion of the L.A. County economy is
difficult to track.
In British Columbia, 80 per cent of the film industry is
working on U.S. productions. But Susin Nielsen, head writer for
CTV's Canadian-made Robson Arms, says what U.S. writers were
striking for is as important in Canada. "New forms of media
the Internet is something that's important to writers
everywhere, not just in the United States." she told CTV British Columbia.
Culture it seems is one of the few economic sectors in
North America that does not recognize its core product as the
element that drives consumer demand towards it artists.
It's not as though culture or art are being ignored by
consumers; quite the contrary, Culture in the mainstream is
one of the biggest parts of the Canadian economy. However
there are two kinds of culture, corporate and global; and
community and local, with the artist used as a tool by both to produce
the products needed for both to survive.
Today, there are a record number of Canadians working
as artists; but they earn 26 per cent less, on average, than
workers in other occupations. An artists' employment study
released in 2004 described the economic life of artists in Canada.
Examining a 10-year period, the study was based on
information gathered by Statistics Canada during the census
years of 1991 and 2001. The goal of the report was to get
"baseline information about the state of artists in Canada."
The study determined that 131,000 Canadians
reported spending more time on creating art than on any other
occupation. The highest number ever reported in a census.
According to Kelly Hill, president of the arts research
firm behind the study, "We know that this count is low," he
added, because someone might spend more time being a taxi
driver or a communications employee by day and still be "a
musician who plays two gigs a week" at night.
"We know that there are many artists who work at their
art [for less time] than their full-time occupation."
Funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage,
the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council,
the study reports that between 1991 and 2001, the number of
artists in Canada grew by 29 per cent, or almost three times
the growth rate of the overall labour force (which increased by
10 per cent during the same period).
However, it also determined that artists had earned
even less in 2001, when compared to the overall average of all
occupation groups, than they did in 1991.
In 2001, artists made $23,500 or about 26 per cent
less than an average annual salary for all workers. The gap
had increased from 1991, when they made 23 per cent less
than the average.
"I don't think artists come into the profession thinking
they are going to make money doing this," Hill said. "It's clearly
a passion for many artists...it's the drive to create." Having
more artists is "the good news," he said, adding that now "we
would like to have them paid more."
So an understatement for sure, especially if you're an
artist. But there's a whole piece of data that the study seemed
to have overlooked which found that almost 600,000
people across the country worked in cultural industries in 2001.
Altogether, 51 per cent of those were located in Toronto,
Montreal or Vancouver.
These folks are employed largely in the theatre and
advertising sectors. They worked as managers, producers and
actors, as well as graphic, theatre and fashion designers.
Basically everyone who in some way is supported by the
creativity within the arts and entertainment industry, including artists.
So we have 131,000 artists or innovators creating work
that supports another 469,000 workers and managers who for
the most part get paid a lot more than the people actually
doing the creating.
Any farmer could relate to this economic equation.
The big difference between artists and farmers is that
mainstream society isn't bold enough to say to farmers, 'why
don't you get a real job?' or, 'surely you don't really expect to
be making a living wage at this, do you?'
So as communities and cultural organizations begin to
plan strategies they should consider the source of where our
culture begins with those that do the creating.
When regional economics is applied to this situation,
more interesting discoveries occur.
While the Canada-wide income average for artists is
$23,000 annually one must consider that there are a handful of
successful artists that make significantly more, and they will
be living in the major urban centres in Canada. This total
average also mixes a vast number of subsets that group together
creative people and might include architects and engineers.
The bottom line is that the statistical analysis we use to
support the importance of culture may be misleading when we
consider the state of the working artist.
But even if you were to consider the average as
being connected to the "arts" when you remove the cream
from the income stream, I would guess that in reality a
full-time artist in a place like the Okanagan would be lucky to
earn $7000 based on this revised average.
In fact, Statistics Canada identifies that one half of
artists across the country, in five arts occupations, earn about
$10,000 or less. Translated this means that a typical
artisan, craftsperson, dancer, musician, singer, other
performer, painter, sculptor or other visual artist in the Okanagan
earns $10,000 or less.
But remember, there's a vast cultural support network
out their, earning more, and eager that those artists remain
alive, or at least on some sort of life support system. In fact
the cultural lobby appealing to government for more funding
and support is usually that of the support network seeking
money to keep our cash starved institutions alive.
Administrators of venues, public galleries, art
organizations and educational institutions will largely be
concerned with funding programs to keep various venues
subsidized and alive, but unfortunately, there is hardly ever a plan
to directly increase the income levels of artists.
To an economist, culture might not be recognized as
a great revenue generator. While Canadian consumers
spent $22.8 billion on culture in 2003, governments spent over
$7 billion supporting culture in Canada. Not a very good
return on investment.
As more artists seek a career in the arts at the same
time as more non-profits all eager to provide more productions
to the community with volunteer efforts, there are more
people doing fundraising, selling tickets and selling art into the
cultural marketplace in the Okanagan.
The underlying message within all of this is that there
is not enough money to go around and it's because we're
cutting up the cultural revenue pie into smaller and
The arts and culture sector must take a different
approach to expand cultural revenue, but what we have to realize
is that arts and culture is not an essential service or product.
It survives as a result of discretionary income, and there
are few cultural institutions, local governments or strategic
plans that address that fact.
UNDERSTANDING LOCAL DISCRETIONARY INCOME
Discretionary income is the amount of money that consumers have left after they have paid for
their living essentials, which is different than
disposable income which is what they have left after taxes.
As Canadians we don't know much about our
discretionary spending habits, and local spending patterns are
even less available. Much of our economic statistics are driven
by the need for other industries to see what kind of
revenue volumes they're experiencing to make comparable
analysis from year to year.
Within culture, statistics are rather sparse. A good
guess would be that in the Okanagan Valley discretionary
income is about $15,000 per year per person, which means that
$4.5 billion dollar is spent every year on everything from
furniture to bicycles. Out of that, every person spends about $758
per year on culture, which adds up to about $220 million or
about 5% of the total discretionary spending valley-wide.
But what culture? Let's guess that most consumers are
going to spend the bulk of their culture budget purchasing
things and experiences that are not locally produced. Let's say
that locally produced products and services are about 25%,
which would be very generous. This would make for a total of
about $190 per year per person, which would make the
valley-wide spending at about $57 million per year.
As we create the analysis and follow the money, we
know less and less about how consumers are supporting culture
and where the money is going. For the most part we're
making very rough assumptions mixed with some
One such guess would be based on national averages
that suggest that artist's incomes represents 10% of the total
consumer spending on culture. If this is the case, artist's income
in the Okanagan Valley represents about $5.5 million per
year, which translates into about 240 artists in the Okanagan
receiving $23,000 per year on average. However this data is
again sketchy because that figure is based on the cultural
worker that is perhaps employed in a art gallery or with an NGO.
These people have a different revenue-scape as government
contributes an additional 20 million per year into organizational
coffers in the Okanagan. So, based on actual consumer
spending let's match revenues to artists who depend on consumer
spending for their income. The income level for an artist,
performer and artisan is more like $10,000 per year, which means
that there may be about 500 working artists in the Okanagan
We know little about the price range of consumer
purchases. Most likely the bulk of the purchases are under $30 while
a guess might be that about 1000 art collectors exist in
the Okanagan who collectively generate about $1 million in
sales annually with these sales largely directed to less than 100
visual artists valley-wide.
Of course in this potpourri of statistical estimates are a
vast number of hobbyists and emerging artists eager for
exposure making very little income and providing volunteer services
to a variety of cultural venues. We know very little about
The bottom line is this; if communities in the
Okanagan can dedicate economic development strategies that grow
artists incomes, they will at the same time learn about
discretionary income and spending locally.
A SNAPSHOT OF POSSIBILITIES
If the local economy encourages consumers to become
more aware of buying locally, more discretionary income would
remain in the community. If targets could be made for
consumers to double spending on culture from $730 per year to
over $1500 dollars and to dedicate that spending to locally
produced products to the tune of $1000 annually, this would move
local cultural purchases from $54.7 million to $300 million dollars.
At the same time, if a valley-wide strategy was
developed that would include a formula to increase artists incomes
so that they represent a third of the total spending on local
culture this would translate into $100 million in direct artist
Within a similar cultural development formula,
individual artist incomes could be targeted at $30,000 per year
which would translate into over 3000 artists working full time on
their trade and providing professional energy into the
productions and markets that will realize the benefits on greatly
increased revenues and audience.
Multiplier effects represent spending that is expanded
from initial spending. So for example, if an art buyer travels
from Vernon to Osyooos to purchase a piece of artwork or attend
a live concert, they spend money on fuel and meals along
the way, which represents money spent in the local economy.
The multiplier impacts are often hard to measure and
represent indirect spending. The cultural sector often uses
multiplier impacts to firm up the over-all economic support for
culture as is often the case when explaining cultural tourism.
Cultural tourism is often described as being successful
when it creates greater room revenues for hotels, often by
ing visitors to stay another day, and of course there's the
dining and other visitor costs. However, the multiplier is
rarely applied to targets that benefit the artist directly.
Conversely, unique multiplier effects happen when
consumer spending is directly linked to the artistic revenues
that artists receive. A greater volume of creative energy takes
place. By setting the stage for increasing direct revenues for
artists, the support network of theatres, cultural agencies, galleries
and production studios are required to help sustain the
expanded demand. By creating and managing these higher volumes
of audience, a new destination audience begins to appear
which may add another 50 percent to art sector revenues that
will create the traditional multiplier of more hotel bookings
So, there is an opportunity to create knowledge of
local discretionary income and clearly link cultural development
to it, along with tangible targets that help to benchmark any
development actions. This will prove to be the opus for the
working artist in the Okanagan, and ultimately for the arts and
Strange but True: Surprises in Cultural Spending
Much can be learned about ourselves as we examine how Canadians spend on culture.
Each year Canadians spend about $22.8 billion on culture, which translates into each of us spending
about $758. Most of it is spent on home entertainment.
It appears that most of us are most likely to cocoon with our cultural experiences because we spend half
of our cultural expenditures buying flat screen televisions, audio systems, CD's and cable nearly $12 billion
worth. While we're not really sure but a safe guess could be made that much of that spending moves from
Canadian retailers to manufacturers off-shore in China, Korea or Japan, or to the United States.
Reading books represents 20 percent of our expenditures as we spend $4.6 billion on books, but it's wise
to look deeper into this statistic. First, according to Stats Canada we don't know how much of that
represents Canadian, BC or local titles; second, we spend an equal amount on newspapers and books at $1.2 billion
each but our educational institutions generate sales of over a billion dollars as we buy textbooks and reading
material for schools.
We spend more on going to movies than we do reading books, as we spend 6 percent of our budget
on movie theatres to the tune of $1.3 billion.
Everyone's an artist, and the most interactive medium to prove that point is photography, and when we
buy film, a camera or go to a portrait studio we're contributing to culture, We spend 9 percent of our budget
on photography equipment and services for a total of $2.1 billion.
Much of this spending provides revenues and profits to local businesses as well as jobs, in fact the
most common occupation in Canada is that of a sales clerk. But what of local home grown culture?
The statistical analysis is sketchy, but we know that we spend $410 million on admissions to museums
and heritage sites and $980 million on live performances and cultural events, which might mean a ticket to a
Spice Girls concert or a cover charge to a jam session at a coffee house downtown.
We spend $530 million on works of art, carving and vases, which is deceiving since the data is collected as
a result of studying "household furnishings" in the Survey of Household Spending. So this means that
carvings from Bali, Monet prints made in China are grouped together with local art purchases.
Museum admissions, live performances, works of art and even our purchasing of antiques are
grouped together in a category of Artworks and Events to which we apply 9 percent of our cultural spending for a total
of $2.1 billion.
It's very surprising to know that while we generate just over $2 billion in these art and heritage sales, $1
billion is spent annually creating art and music. Canadians spend 4 percent of their cultural budget on art supplies
and musical instruments.
And what about regional differences?
While the national average of cultural spending is $758 per person, the BC average is a bit higher at
$787, with the lowest spending from Newfoundland at $607 per person. Alberta tops the country at $838 per
person followed by Ontario at $802.
The Role of Local Government
With an aging population that continues to grow, a shrinking workforce and a lack of industrial
land, the days of businesses moving to the Okanagan
that will employ hundreds of workers is over.
We need instead to add value to our local economy
through innovation, and build a smarter, more creative, society
that can produce ideas as much as things. By doing so,
the Okanagan by nature will become a more creative one.
Our local economy is competing within the global
economy, our locally produced products are competing in the global
marketplace; and we compete to keep our creative people in
order to slow the brain drain.
Creativity surfaces in unexpected ways. Impacts as a
result of new ideas can shake human consciousness and be in
the form of a painting, a film script , book or software. Recently
the Vancouver Sun listed what writer Miro Cernetig thought
was the twenty most important ideas that were born in BC, and
a colourful list it was. One of the innovations was
'neocon-servatism', credited to former BC premier Bill Bennett and
implemented here long before Margaret Thatcher or
Ronald Reagan got around to it.
So creativity, like it or not, knows no boundaries and
can contribute to our culture and economy in more ways than
we can imagine. New ideas will probably be our salvation as
we plan our communities to be better not only in design and
socially but from an economic perspective as well. The
challenge is for our communities to become bastions of the creative
process that is linked to a sense of place.
Another BC Premier, Mike Harcourt, would sum it up
well in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in June,
2006, when he wrote, "What is required at every level of
government and in every facet of governmental decision-making
is an appreciation of the profound value of place, and a sense
of confidence in the capacity of Canadians to plan the future
of the places where they live."
Creativity should be considered as the capacity to
generate an idea through imagination, to develop it into a specific
invention and then capture the benefits through innovation.
This can include anything from the increased production of
material goods to an improvement in the democratic process,
from a vibrant new performing arts community to a technical
advance in transportation that reduces pollution and
improves air quality.
While Canadians spend nearly $23 billion dollars on
culture, which is everything from flat screen televisions to
opera tickets, another layer of value exists that considers creative
producers as exporters and advisors on the world stage as well.
With an active domestic market and increasing
international exposure, Canadian creators and companies are
contributing $43 billion to the economy, or 3.8 per cent of the Gross
Domestic Product (GDP). 'Spin off' economic contributions to
the tourism and service industries as well as to the IT sector
are generated and it is easy to see that Canada's arts and
cultural industries contribute to this country's economy. This
industry also provides much social value as recognized in
UNESCO's Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the
Diversity of Cultural Expressionsby engaging citizens in sharing
diverse forms of cultural expressions.
Each time an idea takes form, it is within a location, and
that sense of place between the creator and the invention is
where a community can realize opportunities.
Chaired by Mike Harcourt, the Final Report of the
External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities titled,
*From Restless Communities to Resilient Places: Building A
Stronger Future For All Canadians (June 2006) it states that our
communities must have adequate capacities in three areas:
creativity: The ability to attract, retain and nurture talent, and to foster the clustering of innovative
enterprises, commercial as well as social
creativity: An engaged population, acting
collectively through the community and government to shape their
cohesion: A sense of belonging and shared purpose among individuals and groups at the local level,
supported in part through creative expression.
This is just as true for smaller communities as it is for
So while the opportunity exists, the actions required
are many. There needs to be a change of thinking on the
civic level first as we take a different approach to developing a
good working climate that the creative sector can flourish within.
The challenge will be convincing local governments in
the Okanagan to consider culture and creativity in a different
way. To have them consider culture as an industry of invention
and productivity and not one of just institutions and recreation.
Historically, some municipal and regional councillors get
a rough-ride from the cultural community as they ask
questions about the logic of funding cultural institutions as part of
Those questions are often no different than the one's
asked in household's everyday: How much does it cost? Why are
we buying it? How are we going to afford the thing and should
we buy it?
The problem is, our cultural institutions never seem to
give answers backed up with tangible results and logic, and as
a result, every year communities and government spend
billions of dollars seeking to support the arts without addressing
real issues of competition for discretionary income in the
marketplace and state of revenues of the creative sector.
Local government needs to begin to consider the state
of creativity in the Okanagan along with a multitude of goals
that have been previously been overlooked and to begin to build
a new creative sector strategy that would apply tangible
goals and actions to economic frameworks.
Building Blocks for Local Government
The time is right, and there's a realization that our economy here in
the Okanagan must shift. Here's some steps and building blocks that local
government can apply for creating a community solution for the development of local culture and
a more prosperous creative work sector in the Okanagan.
Creativity as Work-for-Pay
Recognize that the creative sector has within it
"working artists" which are people who create for a living, and that their income levels are
much lower than national averages. This creative sector consists of different kinds of people
and occupations which generate ideas through imagination, then develop those ideas into
a specific invention and capture the benefits through innovation. By linking together
innovators such as visual artists, software developers, writers, musician's, artisans and
filmmakers etc a mix of innovation will occur that will feed economic development using
knowledge based opportunities.
Make the distinction between the Cultural NGO and the Working Artist
While equally important, the interests of these two subsets of culture are different. It is
important that they co-exist and thrive but they require different strategies for each to develop.
Creating a Quality of Life Charter
Such a charter would invite the community
to create a vision of the kind of community they want to create. It would give cultural
targets that are community and even neighbourhood based. This charter would be applied to
the Official Community Plan that would assist planners with long-term planning.
Create an Endowment Fund
Dedicated to delivering the goals of
community-based cultural institutions, such a fund could create a self-determined platform by which
NGO's could access operating capital. The fund could be arms length from local government
and could be a means by which they could "cut loose" cultural institutions.
Real Targets for Cultural Facilities
Consider public properties that are
currently used by the creative sector such as theatres, studios, performance and exhibit venues
then determine the present level of public use in relationship to the operating costs. Next
determine the maximum carrying capacity of each facility comparing it to the present
capacity. By determining whether facilities are under utilized or not will create a snapshot of
the present level of efficiency and the present level of audience as well as the growth
Audience Development Plan
Audience can mean buyers of art, theatre tickets,
workshop space etc. Private/public investment in cultural facilities should involve a
protocol which insists that public investment of any kind be directly linked to a formula of
building". Create a step-by-step plan that grows audience levels specific to the
carrying capacity of public facilities, the availability of artists and budget allotments. Target
70% occupancy in public facilities and back it up with an operations plan that carries that
capacity. In performance, exhibit or workshop venues reach the target even if it means giving
the space away on the short-term in order to capture a larger audience in the long term.
Establishing a Creative Index and Benchmarking
Determine the level of
discretionary income and spending in the community along with how much spending is
retained locally. Then determine the level of discretionary spending that is directed to
the cultural sector. Compile this same data for visitors to the community. Apply the level
of fundraising and grants from external sources. The collection of this data will make up
a Creative Index by which activity can be established and tracked so that efforts can
be applied to grow culture and creativity that will keep more discretionary spending within
Determine a Day 1 Audience Level, by according to a "sales unit formula" which
would include walk-in traffic, attending an art exhibit, concession sales, theatre attendance,
studio sales etc. The total volume of "sales units" within the Creative Index over the course of
a month or year will help to determine the actual user level for cultural facilities and
spending that will serve as a benchmarking tool for measuring the success of public
investment into creative sector and cultural development.
Extension Services for the Creative Sector
Apply energy from post
secondary institutions to ongoing assistance for skills training, business assistance and research
for the creative sector. Extension practices have been successful in agriculture and
tourism and could be applied to the creative work sector. Through such services Art Colonies
and incubators could be encouraged that can have a multiplier effect in building a
healthier creative work sector.
Encouraging the Urban/Rural Mix
The cultural fabric in the Okanagan is both
rural and urban. Any sustainable development effort requires that political boundaries fade
in the presence of cultural values and similarities. There remains a need for inexpensive
live-and-work space that will require artists to live in the countryside, suburban areas or
the city. Whatever the choice, there will be a need for local government to encourage
and accommodate such needs; a foundation element for having a healthy creative work sector.
Recreation Goals vs. Creation Goals
There will always be efforts to encourage
the community to become more creative in a recreational environment. Recreation
departments are often delegated with this task, and then by default operate cultural facilities
and initiatives. Local government would be wise to separate the two, applying a more
targeted effort towards creativity within the economy and applying appropriate expertise that
will further enhance cultural programs, management and development.
A New Deal to Support the Arts in the Okanagan
To consumers, applying a personal choice and discipline to buy local and buy art might be a tall order. But 30 years ago recycling and being conscience of your environmental footprint was an unknown concept to the majority of Canadians as well.
Today, each Canadian spends an average of $758 per
year on culture. However, Vancouver residents spend $810 per
person and Victoria residents spend $920 per person; $162
per person above the national average.
The differences in these figures suggests that cultural
spending can be increased as consumers are convinced to fit
more cultural products and services into their discretionary purchases.
Community efforts to adjust consumer spending has
happened often right across Canada. Programs are
implemented nationally, provincially or locally that help consumers to
realize trends, connect with different philosophical drives, and
to educate themselves, which all help to contribute to
shifting consumer-spending patterns. Shifting these patterns is
most successful when the private sector joins with different levels
of government and community organizations to act together
strategically. It can often be an up hill battle though, as many
forces are at play that seek to retain the existing comfort zone
There are successful examples of shifting
consumer spending and behaviour:
Educational programs implemented by conservation
organizations and local government provided a new awareness
for consumers to practise recycling. By applying financial
incentives through "deposits" further incentives directed
consumers to manage their recycling efforts, which created a new
consumer behaviour that would eventually spin off a recycling
industry in Canada worth billions and employing thousands
Canadian Content Rules
Under pressure from Canada's culture industries the
Government of Canada created legislation that required and
supported publishers and music producers doing business in Canada
to adhere to certain percentages of Canadian content. Over
time this legislation brought Canadian artists into mainstream
awareness and has launched countless numbers of artists into
the international marketplace.
In the 1970's both federal and provincial governments
would invest in a major public awareness campaign to
encourage Canadians to exercise more. Comparing a younger
Canadian to a "60 year old Swede" became a foundation elicitor
that challenged consumers to bike, jog and get fit. The
promotion worked and also contributed to a fitness industry that
continues to grow today as well as a vast number of recreation
programs offered by local governments right across the country.
Film and Television
Many provinces in Canada including British Columbia
offers incentives to the film and television industry, which
includes tax incentives for companies, which locate production
activities in that province. BC also provides seed money for
regional film commissions which are also funded by local
government. In 2007 the film industry production activities were worth
about $1.2 billion in BC. The Okanagan Film Commission helped
to secure over $5 million in production activity in the valley.
Healthy, Organic and Locally Grown Food
Increasing consumer awareness and demands for safer
and locally grown food created a shift in mainstream
consumer awareness that spawned farmers markets, direct from the
farm purchasing, natural food and health food stores and even
"organic" food labelling in big box grocery outlets. The shift
would grow another billion-dollar industry that is still in its infancy.
The Province of British Columbia, under pressure from
farmers and orchardists seeking to diversify into more stable
agriculture markets, invested into a fledgling wine industry.
Through support from every level of government grape growers
were able to build the investment and knowledge to develop a
wine industry in the Okanagan, which now thrives as a result
of local, regional and international sales.
Creating awareness that helps to shift consumer spending to support local culture is a good fit
for communities and government. The move will help local businesses, and in the process will keep a
larger portion of dollars closer to home, adding value
to the local economy.
In the Okanagan if each person would spend an
additional $162 annually on locally produced cultural services or
products it would mean an extra $50 million dollars that
would remain in the valleys local economy.
Similar benefits hold true when we consider reducing
environmental impacts. The footprint for culture is very small.
Painters, sculptors, writers and performers all consume very little
as they apply skill and knowledge to the value of art and
creative productions. The material cost of a painting is perhaps
$100 while the revenue generated might be $1000 or more.
Books, paintings and CD's are part of the cultural trust
that most consumers would admit to. Rarely do such items
get thrown away, and are most often resold to others as used
and often treasured as collectibles, so the waste generated by
culture is minimal.
Adjusting cultural spending has to take place through
tangible actions that can be embraced by
consumers. Public support for the arts should be recognized and measured by
how much consumers are directly supporting artistic innovation.
If every Canadian would apply this action plan, a significant
increase to the well being of artists will take place not only
in your neighbourhood but also across the country.
To the Okanagan Consumer:
10 Things You Can Do
Here are a few actions consumers and the cultural community
may want to ponder in a quest to support culture on a local level.
1. Purchase one original piece of artwork a year.
Begin a collection. Research and understand the arts, expect to pay
$600 or more for an original unframed painting. Start out small; if
you're able buy direct from the artist; and collect what you like, what
moves you. Right now less than a thousand Okanagan residents purchase
original artwork for their own personal collection. By considering your
annual discretionary income and diverting a small portion of it to
the purchase of original work you would be contributing in a major way
to the survival of the visual arts in your community.
2. Make 15% of your music collection locally produced.
Canadians on a whole spend millions on music purchases, much of
this from mainstream international music labels. Consider how much
you spend annually and then direct a portion to locally produced
original music. You may be surprised what you begin to collect. Collectively,
we would be encouraging the expansion of local professional music
and we would be growing incomes for local musicians.
3. Increase your ticket purchases to four original
stage shows per year.
Whether it's a locally produced play or a concert, by making your
first attempt to regularly attend local shows, or increasing your ticket
purchases to local shows you would be increasing the audience levels
in our local stage venues by over 100 times, creating more full time
work for performers, stage and design workers, not to mention playwrights.
4. Make 20% of your reading and book
budget Canadian, and 10% of it local.
An exercise that might be easier than you think. Quality writers
work throughout Canada, and discovering their titles can be as good of
an adventure as reading the book. Exercising this challenge can lead
consumers away from television and the mainstream into a very new
understanding about the place we live.
5. Add original art to your gift-giving budget.
As aging baby-boomers downsize we're experiencing a sell-off of
fine art and craft, and less new purchasing. If you find yourself in this
demographic, consider adding local original art, music, books and
theatre tickets to your gift-giving list. This will allow less of a tumble in
the local art market and will allow patrons and collectors to remain
active in the market, perhaps even planting the seed for new private
collections driven by those they gave gifts to.
6. Beware of fundraisers including art auctions
and art raffles.
Artists will always be active volunteers in the community as they
seek constant opportunities for exposure. Locally produced art is often
used to anchor non-profit fundraising events. Artists contribute work as
fle prizes or auction items, often without remuneration. Over the
course of a year the value of such donations made by an individual artist
often exceeds their annual income from art sales. Such events often
provide consumers a chance to purchase original artwork at a fraction of its
value. To further this problem, many non-profit organizations suggest to
their patrons that their art purchase is actually not a purchase at all, but a
charitable donation that provides them with a tax receipt. This scenario
creates even more pressure on the individual artist trying to peg the true value
of their work in the legitimate art marketplace.
This fundraising environment has done damage to both local art
markets and the revenue opportunities for local artists who depend on
the local market. As a remedy, many non-profits have made it a policy
to purchase local art at the artist's wholesale rate for their fundraisers,
creating a level of fairness for a sector that can least afford to donate.
7. Consider the source of your décor. Ensure that 20% of your home or office decorating budget is spent on
local products and services.
One of the largest areas of discretionary spending in Canada is what
we buy to decorate our homes, cottages and offices. By deliberately
incorporating locally made art and craft into home decor we would develop
new and significant opportunities for local economies as unique regional
design themes emerge. Places like Santa Fe, New Mexico actively
developed this notion, which turned the architecture and design of that region into
a national and international design identity.
8. Encourage corporate collections and tax laws
that encourage such collections.
In many countries, the establishment of major art collections is
supported through tax shelters. Governments can prime economic engines by
creating infrastructure that supports the arts. Ireland for example, created
tax-free status for artists in that country, which expanded the cultural
By encouraging government to implement such tax incentives,
consumers can further benefit as they support cultural endeavours.
9. Ask at the checkout, does this store sell
locally produced merchandise?
Educating yourself and your community about the important
contributions artists make to the local economy remains a key action for
supporting culture. When you're in a store, ask, 'How much will the artist
actually receive if I buy this?' This action helps bring awareness to retailers
about the need for carrying locally produced art and craft and the importance
of retailers being proactive in supporting the local economy.
10. Understand the arts, become a creative person.
Read an art history book; join an Artist Way
Group; take a workshop. Seeking to understand your creative side and potential will change your
idea about the world you live in. Creating a personal philosophy about you
as part of this world will allow you to be empowered to improve your
quality of life.
Don Elzer was born in Vancouver, B.C., he was raised on an orchard
at the edge of a rainforest. He has lived throughout
Western Canada, and presently lives in the Monashee Mountain
foothills on a small farm at the foot of a mountain called
Coyote Sleeping which is located in the southern BC interior. Don
received his formal art education through Okanagan
He has been practising art professionally since 1980, and
is considered a premiere Canadian contemporary folk artist.
He makes few public appearances and while he is a prolific
artist and his work is in demand, it is rarely found in public
exhibitions. Through private gallery representation in both
Canada and the United States his mixed media wall motifs, masks,
sculpture, bas reliefs and paintings can be found in private and
corporate collections around the world.
For the past number of years Don Elzer has directed
his artistic energy towards the development of sculpture in
the Wildcraft Forest. His creation mixes elements of nature
He can be found most days at his studio on the edge of
the forest, creating new work along the trail system or
maintaining the trails and the sculpture along the way.
Barry Rafuse is a largely self taught artist, although he has studied at
Emily Carr College of Art and Design. He has also attended
numerous workshops with well known artists. He has acted as a
juror for exhibitions, and was one of four local artists invited to
paint large paintings for the University of Northern B.C. Refuse
passes on his talent by teaching others.
Rafuse has been actively exhibiting his work since 1989
in northern British Columbia. He has had work accepted into
many juried competitions, including the annual British Columbia
Exhibition, Images and Objects, for 9 consecutive years.
Rafuse also won first place in the Interior Images Art Competition.
The Okanagan Institute
is a group of creative professionals that have gathered around
the goal of providing events, publications and services of interest
to enquiring minds in the Okanagan. We partner with
individuals, organizations, institutions and businesses to achieve optimal
creative and social impact.
Our mission is to ignite cultural transformation, catalyze
collaborative action, build networks and foster sustainable
creative enterprises. We provide innovative consultation, facilitation,
professional development and creative services programs, as
Our events program features the ongoing Express series of
presentations and seminars (originally at Mosaic Books, now at
Bean Scene North in Kelowna) which take inspiration from articles
published in the magazines of Wheat King Publishing: Okanagan
Arts and Okanagan Home.
The Express series is supported by a number of
organizations, institutions, and enterprises who have joined with the Institute
in furtherance of its mission. Our major sponsor is Wheat King
Publishing, which provides promotional, logistical and financial
support, for which we are very grateful. The other generous
sponsors of these events are:
» Arts Council of the Central Okanagan
» UBCO Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies
» Mosaic Books and Bean Scene North
» Wood Lake Books
The Express series also honours and promotes the activities
of Project Literacy Kelowna.
The literary and visual works presented at the events are
posted online at the Okanagan Reader. The Okanagan Institute is
dedicated to the advancement of the art of writing and to
outreach programs that bring creative thinking and written works of merit
to under-served communities..
A series of Okanagan Chapbooks is in the works -
occasional compilations, short texts, tracts and pictorial materials of
special interest to the principals of the Okanagan Institute - literary
works of merit and distinction, history and heritage, the arts and
crafts, leisure pastimes and fugitive enthusiasms - by Okanagan
writers, and on topics of appeal to Okanagan readers.
The directors of the Okanagan Institute are Robert
MacDonald and Karin Wilson.
We invite active participation by all members of the
Okanagan creative community. To find out what opportunities are
available, visit our website: www.okanaganinstitute.com
We Welcome Your Support and Your Contribution
This document was produced to stimulate discussion about the issues presented.
The Okanagan Institute will be conducting a number of presentations and seminars to
further explore them.
To register to receive advance notice of these events, go the the website: www.okanaganinstitute.com
We also welcome your comments on the document and exploration of the ideas presented.
The complete text is available on the Okanagan Arts website at www.okanaganarts.com