Are we ready to throw open the doors to our cultural institutions as a Games legacy?
With the Paralympic Games now over, another game of sorts will be played out over the coming months in Vancouver. The game will involve a number of armchair quarterbacks who will begin analyzing whether the Olympics/Paralympics were a success. Some will argue the event was a waste of time, while others will claim it was the boost that kept our economy afloat. There will also be a vocal group of people who will want to debate what they believe were the “real legacies” of the Games.
Although I plan to write about both topics in the coming weeks, I’d like to kick off the post-Games show by opening up a discussion about the role of cultural institutions in big urban centres. If you were anywhere near downtown during the Games, you couldn't have missed a not-so-insignificant line-up that formed early every morning. No, I’m not talking about the Ziptrek. I’m referring to the line-up that snaked for almost a block long to get into the Vancouver Art Gallery. Yes, the Art Gallery.
Just when you thought big cultural institutions like the VAG were losing their connection to the broader community, along comes the Olympic and Paralympic Games to give them a boost. Locals and tourists alike spent hours in line every day for a chance to check out their wonderful Da Vinci exhibit along with the best collection of BC art available. By all accounts the VAG garnered a lot of international exposure as a result. More importantly, for many thousands of locals it was the first time they stepped foot in the Gallery to experience it for themselves.
I recall when I worked at City Hall a few years ago having a discussion with our cultural affairs staff. It was triggered as a result of a previous discussion I had with a friend of mine who travels the world as part of his work. He recounted how in Paris many of the top cultural institutions such as their museums & art galleries are all open to the public for free during the Christmas to New Year period. I've had some difficulty independently confirming this, but I certainly like the concept.
He said that opening up all of these cultural institutions at one time for free was one of the best things Paris ever did to help keep them relevant to the broader community. As we all know from our recent experience during the Games, if you opens things up for free and properly promote them, the masses will partake. They will also come with their wallets full of cash and buy concession products, souvenirs and other keepsakes.
So back to my conversation with Vancouver city staff. Why couldn’t we coordinate something in Vancouver whereby all of the top cultural icons opened up their doors for free during an otherwise quiet period? Would this not help expose arts and culture to those can’t afford to visit these places on a regular basis? Would it not generate some buzz about all the “free pavilions” people could visit during the event? What if it was open to everyone with a Metro Vancouver address? I was told this was a non-starter. The concept may work in Paris, but would flop here in Vancouver. The bureaucrats said they would go away and study the idea, but I never did hear back from them on this topic.
I think a coordinated strategy of opening up all of our cultural attractions for one week of the year as part of a broader strategy to engage Vancouverites in the arts would be a huge hit. Of course we’d need to find the funding to translate this idea into a reality. But I figure if we could host the best Olympic and Paralympic Games ever, surely we can find a way of celebrating our arts and culture in this way.
Perhaps we could throw open all of these "free venues" from Feb 12-28th each year commemorate us hosting the Olympic and Paralympics Games and Cultural Olympiad. Now that's one heck of a legacy! What do you think about opening up the doors to our cultural institutions from December 26th to January 1st each year?
- post by Daniel