1940s – The First Community Arts Council on North America
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver is the first Arts Council to be founded in North America. Founded by two dedicated women, Jean Russell and Elena Arkell. They recruited Virginia Lee Comer, an Arts Consultant from New York, to help them prepare a community arts plan designed to bolster community spirit in the post war years.
October 29, 1946 – The Formal Launch
“An expectant crowd jammed the Mayfair Ballroom at the Hotel Vancouver to celebrate the forming of the CACV (then known as the Community Arts Council).
Founding Members of the Board included: Ira Dilworth (Chair), Nora Gibson (Secretary Treasurer) Jean Russell, Elena Arkell, Alex Walton, Howard Goodwin, and Dr. Norman McKenzie (the president of UBC)
1947 – First Community Arts Programs Launch
CACV launched its first major project: the initiation of acting and dancing classes for children in four community centers culminating in two productions featuring performances by over 120 children. This venture eventually became reorganized as the Vancouver Children’s Theatre.
1949 – Design For Living: Does this home fit you?
The Arts Council presented an ambitious exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, titled Design For Living. The display consisted of four architecturally designed houses, decorated and furnished by local manufacturers. The prototype homes integrated creative elements (such as music, painting, ceramics and furniture design) with architecture to demonstrate the practicality of a house that incorporated art and livability. The work of Vancouver artists and craftspeople was featured and Over 14000 people attended the month-long event.
The show is widely considered to have marked the birth of Canada’s West Coast Modernist tradition in Architecture.
The Queen Elizabeth Theatre
CACV Board Executive Frank Low-Beer, and other members, lobbied the Vancouver City Council (with a 20,000 name petition) to include a theatre in the late 1950’s five year plan. The plan was approved in 1953 and in 1954, CACV President Douglas Nixon lead a team that established the land on which the theatre would be built.
The Queen Elizabeth Theatre, opened in 1959, and the impact of its opening was immediate and profound: for the first time, major roadshows like My Fair Lady were able to stage productions in Vancouver, and shows staged across the U.S. border were compelled to extend their productions to Vancouver. Today, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is home to the Vancouver Opera, Ballet British Columbia, and larger touring shows, and is currently in the midst of a long-range strategy for restoration, rehabilitation, and renovation.
When the CACV established the Civic Arts Committee in 1950/51 its initial concern was for the improvement of the appearance of downtown Vancouver. The CACV lobbied for the installation of well designed telephone booths, litter bins, bus shelters, and benches. Next the CACV pushed for trees to be planted along streets, and the preservation of open areas for citizens to gather.
Flash forward to today, and Vancouver’s downtown is known for its tree lined boulevards (like the one you’re strolling on now) green spaces, and boasts many beautiful parks and benches where our communities can come together.
There will be music! There will be music!
Noting a lack of facilities for musical education in Vancouver, the CACV founded a Music Committee, and the council began to put pressure on UBC to establish a conservatory of music. Committee members collected and presented over 1500 petitions and the School of Music at UBC was established in 1956.
Vancouver International Festival
The CACV launched the first Vancouver International Festival in 1958. After facing financial difficulties, the event was discontinued in 1969. The Vancouver International Film Festival Society relaunched it in its current form in 1982.
Celebrating Community Events
CACV initiates and funds the Street Banner program. These colourful banners which celebrate local arts, history, and community events, are a beautiful, celebratory and distinctive feature of Vancouver streets.
The Playhouse Board was formed by the City with CACV’s Mary Roaf as a member. Built in conjunction with the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Vancouver Playhouse opened in 1962 at a critical point in the development of the performing arts culture in Canada. Facilities for live theatre and musical groups were scarce. Today, the Vancouver Playhouse is home to DanceHouse, Friends of Chamber Music and the Vancouver Recital Society.
Granville Island Seawall Extension (Island Park walk to Science World)
In the 1960s, Vancouver was growing at a rapid rate, and the city council was keen to push forward with some aggressive development plans. Then CACV member Hilda Symonds rang the alarm bells. Her efforts ultimately lead to the expansion of the Vancouver Sea Wall through to Granville Island. The Sea Wall, one of our city’s most iconic features, connects the public with the surrounding waters and beaches, preserves city views looking north and south, and has become a hub for recreational, residential and entertainment use.
Vanier Park and the Civic Museums
In 1963, CACV noted concern for lack of museum facilities in Vancouver and gathered a museum committee form Civic Museum Board, secured a grant from H.R. MacMillan family to commission Dr. Theodore Heinrich— world renowned museum expert from the Met Museum in NY, and past director of Royal Ontario Museum. Heinrich’s many recommendations received a lot of pushback from the city. Ultimately, the City of Vancouver approved the Heinrich Report and the new Centennial project- a collective of themed museums and civic archives was born. Today, these facilities run independently as the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, Museum of Vancouver (MOV) and the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
Preserving the views for all Vancouverites
Devonian Harbour Park, located at the north end of Denman Street and banked by Coal Harbour and Stanley Park, was once slated to become a corridor of towers that would block the views of the North Shore Mountains. The CACV worked from 1963 to 1971 to prevent the shoreline from being cut off from the citizens of Vancouver. Through the urging of CACV a city wide plebiscite was held and showed great support for maintaining the space as parkland. The City purchased the land, with the help of donations from the Devonian Charity Group and Devonian Harbour Park was established.
Robson Square, The backbone of Vancouver
In 1975, the Provincial government proposed a municipal center building in the heart of Vancouver. The proposal included a tower that was over 200 meters (682 ft) tall. Opponents worried that the tower would cast a “dark shadow” over the heart of the city, and interrupt the skyline that was, until then, preserved. The CACV worked to secure an alternate proposal from legendary architect Arthur Erikson.
When Erickson described the project he said, ‘This won’t be a corporate monument. Let’s turn it on its side and let people walk all over it.’ He anchored it in such a way with the BC courts, the law, at one end and the museum (Vancouver Art Gallery),the arts, at the other. The foundations of society. And underneath it all, the government offices quietly support their people.
Today, Robson Square also houses a University of British Columbia campus, community ice rink, public art installations and multiple public court yards for the community to gather.
Save the Orpheum!
The CACV became heavily involved in civic heritage preservation during the 1970s, a time when many of Vancouver’s original structures were falling to new developments. The CACV initiated a ‘Heritage Identification’ project designed to identify structures of significant historical, cultural and artistic value to Vancouver. The Orpheum theatre, which was then slated for demolition, was identified as one such building. The CACV initiated negotiations between Famous Players and the city. Eventually, the city agreed to purchase and restore the theatre, restoring its magnificent interior. The Orpheum became the permanent home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO)
Vancouver Academy of Music
As part of an initiative to increase access to musical education for elementary and secondary students, the CACV Music Committee established an independent society, with Iby Koener as the first president. The music school was initially located in what is now knows and City Square (Cambie and West 12th). Demand for musical education grew very quickly, and the Society soon took over the former RCAF hagar at Vanier Park. The Vancouver Music Academy remains in the same location today.
In 1976, CACV Board member Iby Koerner persuaded William Steinberg, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to come to Vancouver and conduct the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at a benefit concert for a school for music training for school age children. Koerner further dedicated her efforts until the community Music School of Vancouver opened its doors to the community on May 9, 1976.
HERITAGE CONSERVATION & GLOBAL INFLUENCE
Immediately to the east of Christchurch Cathedral is the Cathedral Place tower. This is the former location of the Georgia Medical Building, Vancouver’s first art deco skyscraper completed in 1929, by the architects John McCarter and George Nairne who also built the Marine Building. The structure featured medical, religious and mythological symbols around the main entrance including three 11-foot high terracotta statues depicting nursing sisters of the First World War. Despite the intense bid, the Georgia Medical Building was demolished and replaced by Cathedral Place. Modern adaptations of the art deco style and replicas of the Nursing Sisters, the religious and mythological elements of the McCarter/Nairne design can have been included in the new design. In 1989, the City of Vancouver awarded CACV a Heritage Award in recognition of their campaign to save the building.
Arts in Education
In 1980 the Vancouver Arts Council in coordination with the BC Committee on Arts and Education produced What’s the Fuss? a Community Arts campaign kit and lobbying guide designed to help strengthen the role of arts in education. Subsequently, the committee formed the Western Council for Arts Education Association, an organization which continues to operate today as the BC Arts and Education Council. Many profound British Colombian artists participated in the Artists for Schools program including Richard Tetrault, Gordon Smith and Bill Reid. Currently the provincial government and the Vancouver Foundation fund projects to enrich teaching of arts and schools.
Arts in the Community
The Arts Council set a series of very popular annual, juried craft and art exhibitions. Including the Sunday Artist Show, which gave recreational artists a chance to have their works exhibited (foreshadowing the creation of future Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival). One such annual show was the very popular Christmas Craft Sale –known today as the very popular Craftworks
World Conference on Arts
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver sponsored a World Conference of Arts, Politics and Business. The conference would coincide with the city’s Centennial, and the World Fair— Expo ‘86. The conference hosted over 50 speakers and diverse views were expressed on the theme of “Support for the Arts: Philanthropy or Investment?. The legacy of the 1986 World Conference on Arts, politics and business was a heightened awareness regarding the need for new sources of support for the Arts as well as recognition of the dedication of so many who believe so strongly in their value the conference was considered a Triumph for the Arts Council and a milestone in the range of its activities.
Davie Street Art Gallery
As CACV celebrated its 40th anniversary, Board President Genevieve Lemarchand helped secure an art gallery space at 837 Davie Street with 2,200 square foot of space over two levels. CACV operated the gallery from 1985-1996. This location is now home to Vancouver New Music Society and Canadian Music Centre BC. During this time CACV also published a bimonthly magazine, Arts Vancouver, showcasing, promoting local arts events and issues.
In 2004, CACV sponsored a one-day symposium about Addiction in Vancouver with partners in the Downtown East Side including Heart of the City Festival, City of Vancouver Drug Policy Program and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This event was organized by Sharon Kravitz, who later became a CACV board member and would help root CACV in the local community of the DTES.
From 2009 to 2018, CACV focused on Environmental Arts programming including hosting a symposium, Eco-Arts Salons, and the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project. The project was in partnership with the Stanley Park Ecology Society and Park Board staff. The Stanley Park Environmental Art Project honours the park and its significance to our city, and on a greater level, comments on sustainability and climate change. Between 2008 and 2009, six artists created environmental art works in Stanley Park by collaborating with ecologists, park stewards, environmental educators, and even the park’s ecology.
The Community Arts Fund
Launched in 2012 The Community Arts Fund grant provides support for the planning, creation, and execution of projects that focus on building community through arts-related engagement. Both organizations and individuals may apply to create projects that will help to build bridges of understanding, community confidence, and support in the City of Vancouver.
CACV’s annual fundraiser was successfully held from 2012 to 2017 raising over $600,000. The event included performances by groups supported by CACV and the sale of visual art created by selected local artists.
Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival
VOAF is a celebration of Outsider Art, also known as Art Brüt. An Outsider artist is one who is challenged by social exclusion and other barriers, opportunities for exhibition and sales, performance and participation, connection and learning. The artists may be self-taught or trained: they are all devoted to their creative practices, and come from a point of view that is outside the mainstream art world trends. Outsider art is celebrated at significant fairs and museums around the world, including major annual fairs in Paris and New York. VOAF is Canada’s first and only festival for Outsider Art.
With the help of Artist and Musician Ronnie Dean Harris also known as Ostwelve, the CACV launched Reframing Relations in 2016. THis creative program brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists together in schools, community settings, organizations, and corporations to facilitate workshops that build understanding around Indigeneity. This program is suitable for Indigenous, non-Indigenous, and mixed audiences. This program continues today and is offered across the Vancouver Regional Area.
Connecting community and Arts in the Pandemic
In 2021, the CACV partnered with the Vancouver Biennale to present the Vancouver Biennale BIKEnnale/WALKennale is presented by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver combining outdoor recreation with our love of great art. Our 42 self-guided walking and cycling tours are fun and fully annotated with fascinating information on public art and points of cultural, historical and architectural interest throughout Metro Vancouver.