It has not been a banner year for culture in Vancouver. The closing of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, the suspension of MusicFest Vancouver, the publishing house D&M filing for creditor protection, the deep troubles of the W2 Media Arts Society at Woodward’s, the Vancouver International Film Festival scrambling for a new venue to replace the Granville 7. The locally produced sci-fi TV series Sanctuary was axed. Even Book Warehouse closed (although one location was rescued by another retailer).
I have been accused of being too gloomy about the local arts scene, but how can one not wonder at a scenario in which the Vancouver Bach Choir teams up with the VSO for the very big deal Canadian premiere of John Adams’s spine-tingling nativity oratorio El Nino 10 days before Christmas and the Orpheum sits more than half-empty?
Here’s what Bach Choir music director Leslie Dala said to me just over a week before the concert, when ticket sales were looking really dismal (they bounced back, filling just under 1,000 seats).
“This is always talked about as a choral city and great arts and culture city, and the proof is in the pudding,” said Mr. Dala, who also had to put the Bach Choir’s sing-along Messiah on hold this year because it was losing so much money. “There are great artists here; I’m not knocking that. The support for these things is sometimes severely lacking. And I find it really very depressing, and it’s only getting worse.”
Of course, just because some arts organizations struggle – or even disappear – that does not mean the city is not producing great art. The work being created and shown here is often impressive, which only makes these events more distressing.
A tiny sampling of the great work we saw this year: the world premiere of the excellent Bill Richardson/Veda Hille collaboration Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata (which sold out 24 performances at the Arts Club’s Revue Stage); Vancouver Opera’s oodles-of-fun The Barber of Seville, Meg Roe’s fine production of The Taming of the Shrew at Bard on the Beach; the Vancouver Art Gallery’s remarkable Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (now at the Power Plant in Toronto) and Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore. A number of arts institutions – including the VAG, Centre A, the Belkin and others – collaborated on the innovative Yellow Signal: New Media in China.
There was also good news on the culture front: Lululemon billionaire Chip Wilson donated the money to keep Yue Minjun’s popular A-maze-ing Laughter installation here. Another local philanthropist, Morris Wosk, ensured that Videomatica’s enormous and historically important DVD and video collection remained intact, brokering a donation/purchase deal for UBC and SFU to share it. Frank Giustra launched Sea to Sky Entertainment to develop TV projects for U.S. and Canadian networks. The Rio survived and is still showing movies – and serving alcohol. With the demise of the Playhouse, Bard on the Beach was named the new beneficiary of the Vancouver International Wine Festival (formerly the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival). The Vancouver Opera and the VAG were back in the black. Philanthropist Michael Audain announced plans to build an art museum for his collection in Whistler. The Vancouver International Jazz Festival moved downtown. At dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, Emily Carr became the first Canadian artist to have a posthumous exhibition at the important contemporary art show.
Some locals became very famous – Carly Rae Jepsen, the Real Housewives of Vancouver. (Crazy.) Japandroids were named Spin’s band of the year. (We’ll leave Chavril for other lists.)
Season two of Real Housewives aside, next year is going to be pivotal for Vancouver, with a decision expected from City Hall on the VAG’s request to build its new home at Cambie and Georgia. The gallery , bursting at the seams, has been working toward this for years. This will help shape Vancouver’s future – culturally and beyond. Also watch next year for developments on Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s plan to build a new campus and relocate to Great Northern Way.
If you want the good cultural news to outweigh the bad in 2013, here’s how you can help: Buy a ticket. It may feel as if a few bucks for admission to a gallery or a play won’t make much difference, but your support – and your eyeballs – mean everything.
Want some recommendations? Blackbird Theatre’s Don Juan has just opened at The Cultch, followed by the excellent Grim and Fischer; the PuSh Festival begins in January (see Ride the Cyclone if you can). Violin sensation Midori plays with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra mid-January. The Ian Wallace show at the VAG continues – a comprehensive survey of one of Vancouver’s most influential contemporary artists.
Heck, you can now catch Nelly Furtado at the Commodore (downsized from the Orpheum) on Jan. 9.
For 2013, I offer this sincere wish: a good year for the artists and arts administrators who work so hard in sometimes terrible conditions, often for very little money. And for those of us still writing about culture in Vancouver: no more stories about arts organizations closing down.