Thursday, March 3, 2011

Don't just stand there.....

Some local and 'ex-pat' Vancouver musicians have once again been wondering aloud in their blogs, on forums and facebook why Vancouver doesn't have more jazz venues.  It seems another round of complaining and moaning is beginning again.  I really don't get this.  Yes, there is absolutely no doubt that jazz venues are thin on the ground in this city and that the arts in general are treated with utter contempt by our provincial government.  Yes, the liquor laws are antiquated, real estate and lease rates are incredibly expensive, taxes on small business are high, most people here seem to like kayaking and skiing more than going out to hear a concert etc.  And yes, it certainly can't compare to New York or London  as a center for artistic creation (can anyplace compare?).

My response to all of these issues is, SO WHAT?  What are the complainers doing to change things, to create venues, to find innovative ways of getting the music heard?  There are plenty of people here doing positive things to keep the music happening: Ken Pickering and the Coastal Jazz and Blues folks, David Pay and Music on Main, Cory at the Cellar, the 1067 collective, Coat Cooke and NOW, Cole Schmidt's series at El Barrio, Clyde Reed and I with Presentation House.  I'm sure there are many others of whom I am unaware.  Just imagine what would happen if everyone who opened his or her mouth to complain used that energy to create an opportunity for playing music.

Vancouver is a wonderful place to live.  It is, as everyone seems ready to admit, a very, very beautiful place. For many of us that counts for a lot.  The arts here are not well supported by government or the general public but, for whatever reason, there are huge numbers of great musicians, dancers, painters, film makers and other cultural producers here making great work.  It is not London, New York, or Toronto and, for many of us who live here, that is exactly the point!

Here is my challenge for anyone who doesn't like the way things are:  Do something to improve the situation!  If every musician in this town made some small attempt to create an opportunity to play, lobbied their local MLA, MP or Arts Council for increased funding, and actively supported others who are already making things happen (asking other people for gigs doesn't count as support) just imagine the changes that would take place.



  1. Couldn't agree more. Thanks for this post, Jared.

  2. Nice post, Jared. However, I don't agree that the right way to go is to lobby government. What needs changing is the culture. If nobody is interested in coming out to listen, throwing public money at the arts is not going to solve anything. Now, you might say increased public funding will change the culture. But I think the opposite is the case: change the culture, and people will demand more funding. Just think what would happen if not only musicians (who have a personal interest in increased funding), but also fellow citizens lobbied their MLA.

  3. Hi Tristan,
    Nice to hear from you!
    Your argument is correct from my point of view, but not realistic in its expectations. Without some level of government support for the arts, there would be serious problems in the preservation of our cultural heritage. Of course it would be great to change the culture so that the average Joe would support the arts directly through attendance at concerts and plays, going to galleries etc. Convincing people that listening to art music is important and worthwhile is part of my job as a teacher and musician, but I'll take what help I can get from nearly any quarter, even government.

    As you know, almost all of the concerts and events that I promote are not funded by the government, so it isn't like I need their help to do what I do. I am not really the type to do any lobbying myself, I put all of my effort into direct action because I think it produces quicker and better results. The reality is that not everyone is capable of doing things the way I do them: grass roots, self-funded, volunteer, DIY-style. I also have the luxury of an income that allows me to lose a few thousand dollars a year on trying to make things happen. Most musicians don't have this. Whether we like it or not, people look to government for direction. It isn't the way democracy is supposed to work, but it is how things are at the moment.
    Getting government to put some of our tax money into the arts is PART of a solution, not THE solution. Coastal Jazz and Blues is a great example of an organization that has used government and corporate funding to make a very important contribution to the Canadian music scene. This year with gov't funding on the decrease this year, they are hard put to keep going as before. The Vancouver music scene has benefited immensely from CJBS' efforts and from other programs like the Banff Centre and Canada Council. The Canada Council is a shell of what is was in the past now and other government-supported institutions are failing fast. I have problems with the way funding is allocated and, in some cases, with how it is squandered or siphoned off by folks who I don't think deserve or need it. Nevertheless, I'd rather have a functioning system with a few warts than no system at all. So lobby away I say. It won't solve the problem, but I don't think it can hurt.