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The rise of Squamish culture

As a younger demographic moves into town, a sea change in arts and culture is taking place



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All of a sudden, Squamish had been introduced to the world stage. Council was impressed, of course. The word "Squamish" had been heard for the first time by millions of people, providing exposure for the town on a level that even the 2010 Olympic Games couldn't bring.

Granted, Squamish was chosen by festival organizers for practical reasons - it's close to Vancouver, has easy access to a major highway and the Chief provides a stunning natural backdrop - but it's for these same reasons that the town has developed as it has.

You see, there's a new hum in town. It's quiet but it's getting louder. The artists are illustrating this new energy gripping the town. They capture the looks and feelings of a changing demographic; capturing their worries and concerns; articulating through their various mediums what they take pleasure in and what their hopes are rested on. Due to relatively low property costs and drastic changes in its economic base, Squamish has become a bastion for young artists and creative types.

"(Squamish) is reinventing itself with what the community identifies with," says Stan Matwychuk, artist and co-founder of Homebase Studios. "There's the 26-to-34 year olds that's wiping the slate clean, saying, 'This is what I want to do in this town and this is my lifestyle and I'm happy doing that.'"

The studio's layout is an indication of the cooperative approach that artists of this generation are taking - a big room with paint; easels and computers are all within arms reach. Five artists could be at work at any one time and their output seems to be a product of not just the individual, but of the communication that happens between them all. Ideas are tossed around the room, free to stick, bounce or fall where they may. They can bubble and grow into something bigger than intended.

It was set up to bridge as many divides as possible - between individual artists, between generations, between opposing ideas. Homebase functions as a collective, serving the entire Sea to Sky corridor with whatever artistic and creative needs are needed.

This idea is stretching well beyond the creative field.

"The re-identifying of industry and local community, there's a shift that's happening. That paradigm could be very fresh and very new. It is going to allow Squamish to create its own voice," Matwychuk says.

But there are challenges. This drive in the younger demographics is not necessarily turning into an economic boon. Squamish is essentially four disparate neighbourhoods and there's a sense of disconnection caused by a lack of physical togetherness. Weekdays along Cleveland Avenue are bustling but come Sunday, it's Deadsville. There seems to be a new big box retailer setting up shop every couple of months and, like in most communities, it's slaughtering the little guy. Independent stores along Cleveland are closing left and right. There's a fear among the locals that the corporate clutch will squeeze the soul out of the town before it has a chance to flourish.