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Letter: The next phase of new West Van arts facility needs our support

Our current arts facilities are deteriorating fast
West Van Municipal Hall at Night CINDY

An open letter to West Vancouver mayor and council:

I am co-chair of the arts facilities advisory committee but am writing as a private citizen to urge you to support the recommendation coming before you on July 26 regarding the next phase of planning for a new arts and culture centre.

As is obvious to any casual observer, and as you and the citizens of West Vancouver well know, our current arts facilities are deteriorating fast, are largely inaccessible to those in wheelchairs or with canes, and are wholly inadequate to the kinds of activities taking place in them now.

Cramped and overcrowded “bedrooms” and “living rooms” in repurposed old houses being used as rehearsal, performance, and workshop spaces cannot properly accommodate the needs of performers, programmers, arts educators, and students now, let alone sustain growth for the next 20 years. Some works in the collection of the West Vancouver Art Museum (which includes works by luminaries Gordon Smith, Emily Carr, Jack Shadbolt, B.C. Binning, Joan Balzar, and Pierre Coupey) are even housed in a garage.

How can we expect potential donors to consider leaving their legacies to West Van if their artworks only end up in a shed? How can future artists, architects, actors, musicians, media arts designers and educators be allowed to flourish if all we give them are closets and kitchens in which to learn, practise, and produce? How can we enhance the lives of the elderly through concerts and talks or workshops and classes if our facilities don’t even allow them access to the buildings?

Our district— our kids, youth, adults, and seniors — deserve much better and yes, progress has a cost. The West Vancouver Community Centre was fought tooth and nail by some when the plan was proposed years ago; now it’s one of our most successful and beloved community assets. More than just passion, vision, and business acumen, that project took exceptional leadership from WV council. It took recognition from elected officials concerned for the health, well-being, and future of our community to push for change and to serve our citizens better.

Since 2018, a great deal of work has been done to identify failing buildings, define current and future users and audiences, determine the social and economic benefits, and evaluate potential sites for a new arts and culture centre (see Yet all of this research simply builds on the needs and desires of stakeholders, practitioners and, of course, the public, expressed over a decade of studies. For those who do the reading, the evidence is there, and the evidence is clear: the arts are necessary to the well-being of any community, are contributors to productive careers for our kids, and are significant economic drivers for the neighbourhoods in which they are situated.

I urge council to take positive action on July 26 and approve the recommendation to go to the next phase of planning for an arts and culture centre, including developing a business plan, fundraising plan, and governance model. Vast numbers of your constituents are counting on you to do the right thing — and do the thing right — by investing in the future of the arts in our community now.

One last thought: if you don’t approve the recommendation, then what? Will the Silk Purse be allowed to flood one too many times, and then have to close forever, leaving the West Van Community Arts Council and the many arts organizations who offer concerts, classes, kids camps, and visual arts and literary events there without a home? Will the Music Box just continue to rot from the inside, until it, too, has to be shut down? Will the WV Art Museum have to continue to decline significant collections due to lack of space and a leaky building?

Costs to remediate these buildings are prohibitive (just to raise the Ferry Building above the flood plain and install a washroom required a $1,010,360 grant from the federal government and $841,882 from the province), and to consider replacing them on their current sites is just irresponsible. Besides construction costs (again, on a flood plain), for every one of these three buildings, systems, staffing, and maintenance would have to be duplicated, costing taxpayers far more in the long run than constructing a consolidated arts and culture centre to serve all of West Van.

If you don’t care about the people who use, support, exhibit, perform, learn from, and enjoy the kinds of programming that take place in these spaces, then your decision is easy. If you do care, then the decision may be harder, but I guarantee it will come with a legacy as positive and powerful as any you may have made as elected officials so far. Every great city in the world makes space for the arts, celebrates the arts, and encourages education and participation in the arts; our district should be doing the same.

So take the tougher road and approve the July 26 recommendation to proceed with the next phase of work on the arts centre proposal. We are worth it.

Jennifer Webb
Co-chair, West Vancouver's arts facilities advisory committee

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