Semiahmoo Arts’ new executive director is an energetic advocate of the arts as a social connector.
Dr. Ulduz (Ulee) Maschaykh, raised in Cologne, Germany, comes to the peninsula with an impressive resume that includes bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees from the University of Bonn, and work as a postdoctoral research fellow at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.
She has also served as a visiting fellow at both UBC and the University of Auckland in New Zealand and, latterly, worked with many Metro Vancouver non-profit organizations, including the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts, the Heritage Vancouver Society and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
She is also author of a book, The Changing Image of Affordable Housing – Design, Gentrification and Community in Canada and Europe.
But – as evidence of her passionate interest in the arts – she reveals it was news that the late Leonard Cohen was resuming touring, some years ago, as the catalytic event that brought her to Canada for the first time.
“I was on a scholarship to study art history in New Zealand, but I packed up my things and went to Montreal to see Leonard Cohen’s first concert after 15 years,” she told Peace Arch News.
“Art is truly a passion for me,” she added. “It’s a means to connect people – it functions as a connector for those who like all kinds of beauty…it’s a universal language.”
Maschaykh said there is an ongoing intellectual debate about what is the real audience of art, and who it caters to.
“Particularly in the City of Vancouver, where certain developers are putting out art as a commercial commodity – but I believe that art should be truly inclusive to make any city livable.”
In this context, Maschaykh quotes the late author and urban studies activist Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities) – “without inclusivity a city becomes a collection of interests isolated from one another.”
Maschaykh frequently works with the German consulate in Vancouver, facilitating visits by those who look to Canada, and specifically Vancouver, as models in championing multiculturalism and creative approaches to urbanization.
But she notes the irony that Vancouver, which has embraced highrises that tend to encourage isolation, feels now that it must create artistic events to boost a sense of community.
Although she has only lived in White Rock for two months – and even though she is aware of complaint that rapid development is changing the feel of the Semiahmoo Peninsula – she has a strong sense of the community as one where, unlike Vancouver, neighbours still know each other by name.
And she said that she is very interested in the concept of “placemaking” – inspiring people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of each community – in which she sees promoting interdisciplinary events, which can combine visual and performing arts, as playing an important role.
“Ulee is awesome at facilitating collaborations,” Semiahmoo Arts board member Pat Higinbotham commented.
“The tendency here has been that eveyone has wanted to be their own independent art organization,” she said, but noted that is changing.
Maschaykh said she is excited by the potential of what she has learned so far about the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
“White Rock and South Surrey is such a hidden treasure that you almost want to keep it hidden, but there is so much talent here and so much to be proud about that I want to show it off to the rest of Vancouver and beyond,” she said.
Rather than make sweeping changes, she said she wants to carefully study Semiahmoo Arts events and community interactions to help develop possibilities for moving forward.
Board member Laurel Tien, who with treasurer Sandy Cave, has been fulfilling acting executive director roles since the resignation of Barb Nelson earlier this year, noted that the organization has “had an incredible growth spurt over the last five years,” under Nelson’s management.
“Part of that is due to having a solid base of operations in the South Surrey Arts and Recreation Centre and with that has come a staff that is incredibly skilled,” Tien said.
“We are a different animal now, and what we decided we needed and wanted in a new executive director is someone with a vision of the future who can move us forward to where we want to be next in White Rock and South Surrey.”