The Surrey Arts Organizations Round Table event, hosted by the Arts Council of Surrey last Saturday afternoon (June 1) at Newton Cultural Centre, was a rousing success. I wasn’t expecting that at all, so call me enthusiastically surprised – and energized. More than 70 individuals, representing more than 30 arts organizations, packed the theatre/rehearsal hall at NCC. I think we were all there for the same thing – making our voices heard by the city.
Liane Davison, the new (and actually the first) Manager of Culture for the City of Surrey, addressed this diverse group by saying, “I need to know what challenges you are facing.” She recognized that all of us present are volunteers, making valuable contributions to the arts scene in Surrey. This commitment to the arts almost brought her to tears, as she acknowledged “how important it is, the work that you do.”
Davison speaks from the heart, and she is now on my hero list. Listen to this, City of Surrey, you are fortunate to have Liane Davison – and so are the artists in this land. Artists are people who participate in the arts, whether it is literary, visual, performing, cultural preservation or administrative.
Surrey’s city council is all new, except for Mayor Doug McCallum. None have served the city in this capacity before. Talk about challenges! Where do you start when you aren’t familiar with what value and contribution the arts make to a community? The Surrey Arts Organizations Round Table 2019 made an excellent start in this direction. Davison promised us that she would “be the pebble in the shoe” of the city council. After all, how can you solve a problem when you aren’t aware of what is happening?
According to Statistic Canada’s 2016 survey, 86 per cent of Canadian residents attended or participated in an arts activity or event. Surprised? We need the arts for mental health, crime prevention (that is also statistically valid), social bonds and a better understanding of each other. There are also the economic benefits to the community but, as Davison pointed out, “no one has gone to the theatre because it is an economic multiplier in our community.”
The city’s 10-year plan for Parks, Recreation, and Culture (PRC) can be viewed on the city’s website. So, new performance space is included along with more ice arenas and other leisure activities. All are important in building a safe and vibrant city. It is not a case of either sports or the arts. Both are just as important as roads, public schools and recycling. Sustainable and a model for the rest of the country.
As part of the PRC, Davison shared the four-part plan for culture that will make Surrey a robust, mature arts community. Volunteer labour is great, and amazing, but Surrey needs to grow toward building a platform where artists can make a living from their artistic practices. Surrey must also attract new artists and artistic organizations, arts organizations must receive ongoing operating funding from federal and provincial programs (Canada Council, for example, only grants funds to professionals), and Surrey arts organizations should have strong, functional boards and can operate in independent facilities with paid, professional administrators and artists.
Wow, that last item is a big one. The Arts Council of Surrey can act independently as they operate the Newton Cultural Centre. Of course, they get city funding and also have a large core of volunteers plus a very strong board of directors. Well, that is a start. Dance schools mostly rent space for classes, the Royal Canadian Theatre Company has designated space courtesy of the city. There may be other organizations out there that run independently in their own space, but the only organization I know of in the City of Surrey that owns their own space is Surrey Little Theatre. And that space is threatened due to the rabid development policy of the city. SLT is being crushed by road widening and housing development. Nowhere to go. Parking space is being systematically removed. C’mon, Surrey. Progress is one thing, but SOS for SLT. Yes, we do need SLT. I am going to paraphrase Liane Davison here: We need more of everything, everywhere. And we do want to foster community connections through the arts.
Saturday’s Round Table also gave a glimpse of what the city is doing for arts and culture. Todd Ayotte (another hero for the arts) is in charge of Surrey’s Cultural Grants Program. He doesn’t have the final say in who gets how much, but certainly does assist groups in making a viable application.
The grants program began in 2013 with an approved budget of $75,000. Today, although the funds available for grants is now $500,000, the number of “asks” has increased, and the funding is finite. Ayotte really would like to help arts groups put together a “compelling” application, and says his success rate is 95 per cent. Advice: go to Todd for help. Get your ducks in order. Follow the rules. You are not asking for a handout, but asking for assistance in funding the incredibly valuable service you are providing to this city.
From the separate discussion groups that followed in the afternoon, several recurring themes were apparent: We need to reach out and communicate with each other and support each other. We need more human resources – people who can be administrators. We need more community and business involvement. And most of all, we need more space.
Lookee here: the Clayton Community Centre, due for completion next year, addresses some of the needs and wants: This turnkey operation will have rehearsal and performance space, woodworking studio, music studio, library, meeting space and fitness facilities. Maybe our voice is being heard after all. Keep up the good work. It is our journey in life.
Melanie Minty writes twice monthly for the Now-Leader. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.