“These are important times for the Arts Council. Major
shifts are taking place within our society and we need people to care and think
about the state and future of culture in our community and our nation.”
– Ingrid Alderson, Executive Director
The Arts Council and the City of Vancouver
The Vancouver Arts Council played an important advisory and research role for the City of Vancouver well into the seventies. In 1965, at the request of City Council, the Arts Council undertook a comprehensive review of civic cultural groups. The subsequent report recommended the establishment of a cultural advisory committee, a recommendation which was accepted and eventually implemented. In the seventies, the City established both a Heritage Advisory Committee and a short-lived Special Committee on the Arts.
It was also in the seventies that the city established the Social Planning Department, which included cultural planning, and as city staff took over much of the research and liaison with the arts community, the advisory and coordinating role of the Arts Council diminished. The Office of Cultural Affairs of the Social Planning Department has become an increasingly effective force in the organization and support of the arts in Vancouver. When Gordon Campbell was elected mayor he appointed the Vancouver Arts Initiative, a task force which today is chaired by Mayor Phillip Owen. The City of Vancouver has made enormous strides in support of the arts in the last two decades.
The Arts Council and the Province of British Columbia
An important feature of the Vancouver Arts Council’s early mandate was to bring people together on a wide basis and to develop arts structures both provincially and nationally. In 1957, the Community Arts Council of Vancouver organized the first B.C. Arts Resources Conference, which was attended by representatives from all over the province. This and subsequent meetings to ascertain the state of the arts in B.C. brought forth a demand for the establishment of a provincial board of the arts, later known as the B.C. Coordinating Committee of the Arts. Staunch Arts Council member Wyn Peek-Philpottwas the first chair of this advisory body, followed by Arts Council President Alex Walton.
In 1967, the province funded the Centennial Conference on the Arts held at the University of British Columbia, and organized by the Vancouver Arts Council. One of the objectives was to research what form of provincial body could effectively assist the arts. Soon afterwards, the B.C. government established the B.C. Centennial Cultural Assistance Fund with an endowment of $5 million and with grants from the interest to begin in 1968. The fund was administered by the Provincial Secretary, the Honourable William Murray, and his Ministry, with advice from the Centennial Cultural Fund Advisory Committee. Discussions with members of the Arts Council, including President Frank LowBeer and Past President Elizabeth Lane, resulted in a decision by the Provincial Secretary to use arts councils as the vehicle for adjudicating funding for local arts activities.
The Vancouver Arts Council and the arts community, particularly through the organization Arts Access, pressed for a provincial arts board. When the NDP government was elected, an interim B.C. Arts Board was established in 1974. It eventually became the B.C. arts board and continued to advise the government on arts and culture grants. Elizabeth Lane served as chair from 1974 to 1978.
After 1975, the province funded community arts councils on a per capita formula basis. That year the province provided start-up funds to form eight regional arts councils corresponding to the eight economic regions of the province. The Community Arts Council of Vancouver is part of the Southwest Regional Arts Council of B.C. which was formed in 1989. There are currently eighty-seven community arts councils in the province. In 1995, the provincial government announced that it would appoint a new B.C. Arts Council with power to adjudicate grants on an autonomous rather than advisory capacity. The Vancouver Arts Council has actively lobbied for the retention of the existing per capita funding of arts councils throughout the province.
The first provincial conference of arts councils held in 1979, was organized by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver. The Assembly of B.C. Arts Councils was founded that same year as a coordinating body. This Assembly promotes and facilitates communi¬ty cultural development in the province through communications, advocacy, and training services. It also coordinates a provin¬cial conference annually.
Through the years many Arts Council members have served on the appointed City of Vancouver committees. Among them:
- Janet Bingham
- Ann Cherniavsky
- Betty Clyne
- Jean Coulthard
- Rhonna Fleming
- Judith Jardine
- Elizabeth Jarvis
- Susan Le Page
- Frank Low-Beer
- Geoffrey Massey
- Elizabeth O’Kiely
- Peter Oberlander
- Jo Scott-B.
City Councillors May Brown and Marguerite Ford and Park Board Commissioner Alan Fetherstonhaugh have been active members of the Arts Council, as have Joyce Catliffe and Hilda Symonds, both City Planning Commission directors.
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver and the Nation
One of the first tasks undertaken by the Arts Council was the presentation of a brief to the 1949 Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences: the Massey Commission. The brief, one of the first to be filed, made several recommendations including the formation of a national body to assist artistic endeavour through grants, research and communication. A committee, chaired by Geoffrey Andrew of UBC, worked studiously on this project and sent its recommendations to the Massey Commission. When the Commission report was published, the Arts Council’s brief was taken into account. A meeting at the Vancouver Art Gallery organized to promote the idea of a Canada council attracted a capacity audience of over 700. Dr. Norman McKenzie, a member of the Massey Commission, chaired the meeting at which a resolution was passed expressing the very strong desire of those in attendance to see the formation of a Canada council. This resolution was forwarded to the Prime Minister, with copies of it going to every elected federal official in Ottawa and to twenty-eight national arts organizations. Vancouver Arts Council members were interviewed on radio programs and President Alex Walton promoted the recommendations of the Massey Commission on a five-day tour of the province.
The Arts Council of Vancouver continued to generate enthusiasm for the formation of a Canada council and doggedly pressure the federal government to take action. However, despite these early efforts the government had no funds to endow such an undertaking. It was not until 1957, after the estates of Isaak Walton Killam and Sir Jarnes Hamet Dunn provided large sums in succession duties to the government, that the Canada Council with a $100,000,000 endowment came into being. Two of its founding board members were Elena Arkell and UBC President Norman McKenzie. In Vancouver the Arts Council continued to take an active interest in national arts activities, and was represented often at meetings of the national arts advocacy organization, the Canadian Conference of the Arts. This organization, now in Ottawa, generally meets in central Canada, but with Elizabeth Lane as its president it was persuaded to meet in British Columbia in 1977 for its annual conference.
The Arts Council and the World
In 1984, Executive Director Anne Macdonald broached the idea of a world conference of arts councils sponsored by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, to be held in 1986, the city’s Centennial and Expo year. The concept was developed, and grants were sought. Arts Council President Genevieve Lemarchand and member Janet Summerton were successful in obtaining substantial funding, and by spring 1985 financing was in place to proceed with the organization of the World Conference on Arts, Politics, and Business.
As arrangements to provide staff and volunteer assistance for the conference were being made by the Community Arts Council, an unfortunate situation developed. The Arts Council found itself embroiled in a lawsuit, brought by a former board member who felt that she was entitled to payment for her advance work on the conference. This lawsuit brought into prominence the problems that can be encountered by a charitable organization when roles and responsibilities of board members are not clearly defined.
In spite of this threatening situation, President Pat Hall and Arts Council board members were determined to go ahead with the conference. The conference organization was undertaken by the Centre for Continuing Education at UBC, and a new management society, The World Conference on Arts, Politics and Business Society was set up. The Arts Council’s Elizabeth Lane became chair with Mavor Moore as the conference chair. The conference, held in July at UBC, was a great success with 375 participants from five continents who heard and discussed presentations by some fifty speakers. Diverse views were expressed on the theme, “Support for the Arts: Philanthropy or Investment?”
The conference was also a financial success. With an income of $300,000, mainly contributions from governments, foundations and corporations, the Conference Society was able to reimburse the Community Arts Council of Vancouver for administrative services related to the conference. Unfortunately, the Arts Council lost the lawsuit, but funds from the conference and the dogged pro bona efforts of lawyer and Arts Council member James Craig alleviated much of the pain.
The legacy of the 1986 World Conference on Arts, Politics and Business was a heightened awareness regarding the need for new sources of support of the arts, as well as recognition of the dedication of so many who believe strongly in their value. The conference was considered a triumph for the Arts Council and a milestone in the range of its activities.