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The value of local art

New collaborative survey to examine impact of arts and cultural activities on the Sea to Sky economy

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If you receive a random phone call asking for your thoughts on arts in the region, don’t hang up — they’re calling as part of a new study that aims to help boost the cultural community.

Local artists, art organizations and cultural stakeholders are being asked to provide feedback that will help people understand how the arts impact the economy. The information will be gathered through an online and telephone survey, which is being funded by the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the Creative Communities Program of Arts Now.

Anne Popma is the coordinator of the regional steering committee heading up this latest initiative.

“It goes back to an action item in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Strategy of Whistler 2020,” Popma said. “…There’s a group of diverse people there having input into what the arts, culture and heritage vision action items should be, and a couple of years ago, this need for an economic impact study was raised by both the Arts, Culture and Heritage task force and the economic task force.”

Initially, they were just going to look at the economic impact of the arts in Whistler, but decided expand their vision, and look at the impact throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.

“We believed that there was strength in collaboration, rather than each community trying to do this on their own,” said Popma.

So the committee brought together the arts councils from each community and local government to help get the study off the ground, and set about building bridges between the cultural communities from Lions Bay to Pemberton, with the hope that they will eventually achieve some level of coordination, and be able to measure the economic impact of arts on the entire corridor.

They hope their findings will eventually help them develop strategies to strengthen the cultural sector of the entire region, and maybe even allow them to begin packaging the corridor as a cultural destination, rather than just promoting one-off events.

Popma points out that the Okanagan is just one region of the province that has combined cultural communities with local wineries to achieve great economic success.

“By doing this economic impact study and really getting some evidence about the size of the sector we can then use that as a foundation for building a more formal structure to strengthen that sector,” she said.

One of the motivating factors behind the study is the need to prove that the arts are not just a flighty endeavor — they are a meaningful part of the economy.

“A large part of it is to demonstrate to the broader community that arts and culture involve not just individual artists working in their studios… it’s more than that,” explained Popma, “It’s that it generates jobs, it has economic force in the community, just as much as outdoor recreation or high-tech industries do.”

There’s also a trickle-down effect on other businesses when local artists are thriving.

“If you have a certain amount of people employed and earning income from the arts, they go to the grocery store, they spend their money in the hardware store, they purchase local supplies when they can, so you get a multiplier effect with that. It’s good for everybody’s business if the arts community is doing well,” said Popma, adding that members of the arts communities are always approaching local businesses for support, whether it be as a place to showcase their work, for sponsorship or funding.

“So if the community at large understands the value of a healthy arts sector, then they’re going to be more likely to contribute.”

It hasn’t been easy to get to this point. Stakeholders have been working together to get this survey off the ground since 2006.

“The process is one of community development and that always takes time,” Popma said. “Whether you’re trying to build a hockey arena in Meadow Park, or whether you’re trying to decide about what to do with the celebration site for the 2010 Games, or whether you’re trying to build a new library or… a dog shelter, it takes time to get people to understand why it’s important to do.”

Now, it’s time to put the plan into action. The committee planned to start making calls within the community early this week, and is asking people to visit their website to fill out the online survey if they don’t receive a call. After about a month of surveying, they will then compile the data and hold community focus groups throughout the corridor to discuss the results. Popma expects to see a final report by the end of June.

To complete the questionnaire online, visit www.seatoskycorridor.ca .

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