But where to go is a serious problem. A healthy city has a rich culture but the places to actually do that hard work are rare or too costly to consider in this town. Everyone knows someone who has given up trying and moved to Toronto. It's getting to the point where some artist friends have decided to remain in Vancouver — at least for the moment — because they just can't abandon the struggling cultural community.
It's an odd feeling, working in adverse conditions to ensure a vibrant cultural life in the milieu of the city's glassy wealth. Surely some of those speculative development dollars could actually help stem the tide that threatens to replace every last independent bookstore, gallery cafe and theatre into one long avenue of Shoppers Drug Marts, bank branches and Starbucks.
This is why, despite a general wariness about any artisan-party-backed events, I and a couple of friends hit the Fox theatre last Thursday for a Vision Vancouver-backed community forum on protecting the city's cultural spaces. When you want to be part of the conversation on this critical topic you go where there are ears.
Everyone from young street performers to retired folks bent on protecting threatened venues packed the revamped former porno theatre last Thursday evening — the perfect venue for showcasing what is possible with a council that is increasingly promoting the value of city culture of all kinds.
The entrepreneur behind the Fox, Ernesto Gomez (Waldorf, Nuba, etc.) was there on stage as part of a panel led by city councillor Heather Deal that included fellow councillor Geoff Meggs; Kate Armstrong, director of Emily Carr University's Director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre; and Esther Rausenberg, head of the Eastside Culture Crawl. The vibe was one of simmering frustration but there was also warmth generated by the obvious show that we are all in this together.
"Development needs to deliver more for local culture. Arts and culture needs to be treated as a public good. That we need zoning to enable independent businesses and cultural groups to succeed, not push them out. And that it's not just about creating studio space, it's the need for rehearsal and production space too."
But things are getting better, as many noted at the forum. The relatively new food truck program and more reasonable liquor licensing laws are both driving audiences and sales at local festivals and venues; car-free events like the city's biggest free music and art fest, Khatsalano and Car Free Day on the Drive have turned radical notions into much-loved draws.