Bohemian Renaissance

I’m pleased to mention that my latest article is up at Business Edge. It’s a piece I wrote about artists moving into communities and elevating them.

Artists have always been known as catalysts of change. And across Canada, many are helping to transform their neighbourhoods and pull them out of poverty.

One example is Parkdale in the west end of Toronto, which entered a period of decline in the 1950s. Many of the stately homes became run- down and the area had one of the highest crime rates in the city.

“It was quite poor and there weren’t many organizations working in the area when I was a kid,” says resident and writer Emily Pohl-Weary. “I remember my mother and my stepfather lobbied the city to get a parkette created on Beaty Avenue. In other words, the neighbourhood was pretty bleak, but there were residents working to change that.”

There are still some cheaper apartments in the neighbourhood. But Pohl-Weary says there has also been an influx of artists and film-industry people, who are transforming the area by creating galleries and cafes and infusing the community with money.

(Click here to read more)

Unfortunately, the publishers were forced to cut the article for space, so they weren’t able to finish off with my point about artists sometimes elevating a community beyond a point where artists can inexpensively live in it. That’s just the way things go. But, free to you folks, I’ll post the final part of the article below:

“SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts is expected to increase economic activity in the Downtown Eastside by up to $7.5 million, or 47 per cent more than it would be without SFU’s presence,” says the BC Minister of Advanced Education, Murray Coell. “The redevelopment of the Woodward’s building will revitalize the Downtown Eastside and solve many of the issues that have surfaced since Woodward’s closed in 1993.”

“It’s important for British Columbia that we continue to invest in a broad spectrum of disciplines for the future of both our students and our society,” adds Coell. “The arts allow us to express ourselves, and to appreciate the expressions of others. SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts will allow talented British Columbians to develop their abilities and contribute to the world’s legacy of artistic achievement. The school will also attract creative, knowledge-based talent to Vancouver - people who are likely to create new technologies and industries.”

“SFU brings a bohemian index to the mix, with 800 art students contributing their energy, building bridges between communities,” says Henriquez. “SFU is bringing in what is essentially a minor national arts centre. There will be 5 performance venues, teaching studios, a 400-seat theatre, and a multimedia lounge and lab for new media,130,000 square feet in total. There is also a large component of public art. We’ll have the largest Stan Douglas photograph printed so far in his career, 30’ x 40’, printed on glass, depicting the history of the Gastown riots in the 1970s.”

The development is slated to accepts its first residents in 2009, but it is already fuelling renewed optimism in the area. “With the building sitting vacant, there was an exodus of legitimate business and an increase in unemployment and poverty, creating serious social problems,” says Coell. “The Woodward’s redevelopment will address these issues. It incorporates market housing - all of it presold - as well as retail space, offices, child care, social housing, and City of Vancouver services.”

Christy Morin is continuing her work for Arts on the Avenue in Edmonton and has events lined up to keep the area active in winter. “On January 12th, we’ll be having an event called Deep Freeze. There will be an ice sculpture competition and a sculpture park. There will be a Byzantine theme as it will be the Ukrainian new year then. The city is going to set up an outdoor snowdrift oval pond to complement it. There’s going to be snow-shoeing and slayrides; a wonderful outdoor day festival.”

For Peter Raush, the area’s future looks bright. “We’re working with the city to acquire the old Alberta Cycle building, to be used by artists throughout the city. There’s a desperate need for theatre space, studio space. One great facility that the city has is the City Arts centre on the south side, but they haven’t added anything to the capacity since that place went up. We can provide that.”

A downside of this revitalization, says Phil Anderson, if it can be called that, is that it improves the neighbourhood to such a degree that rents and house prices increase, driving out the very artists who made the neighbourhood so desirable in the first place.

“That’s happening to some degree here in Parkdale,” says Anderson. “Rents are going up and market prices are going up. Originally it was an area where there was a lot more affordable artist studio space, and quite a few of those spaces have been redeveloped.”

“I’ve noticed a lot of artists moving up to the Dupont/Lansdowne area, where I live,” he adds, “and that’s becoming a really large art community as well because it’s more affordable.”

Okay, What if They Called an Election and Nobody Showed Up?

This is not what it appears, but it’s worth posting in order to get a picture of my double take. A bit of background first, though: I’ve been impressed by the turnout we’ve seen for the American primaries, but I’m under no illusions, here. It’s the fact that we have had competitive races that have brought people out in droves in Nebraska and Texas. What happened, I wonder, when both parties wrapped up their nominations early? How many ballots does South Dakota print? Do they bother printing any ballots?

So, I’m here, looking for results on the Wyoming Democratic caucuses. The Democrats still have a race, but the Republicans wrapped theirs up last Tuesday. I’m guessing that would probably affect Republican turnout. But you can probably imagine how my jaw dropped when I was confronted with this chart:


Hmm… Democratic votes: over 7,000. Republican votes: 12.

Okay, here’s the reality: the Wyoming Republicans had their caucus back on January 5. The results tally only the number of state delegates won, not the actual number of people to vote. What you’re seeing is the difference of how the Republicans and Democrats of Wyoming run things.

Still, for a moment I thought that they actually called an election, and nobody came.

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