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Does Great Scenery Kill an Arts Scene?

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Ah, Vancouver. Such a beautiful place. The sea, the mountains, the greenery. And by the way, the biggest city in a province with the lowest arts funding per capita in the country.

PEI spends more money on the arts than B.C. does -- and it's supposed to be a "have-not" province.

Indeed, Vancouver is a maddening place. Every time you complain about the lack of cultural critical mass in Canada's third largest city, people sigh, lift their eyes northwards with a quasi mystical gaze and say -- but look at those gorgeous mountains.

In the Darwinian struggle between culture and nature, the arts world here often loses in its competition with the beach. I've often wondered if one of the deciding factors in say, Winnipeg's thriving arts scene, is that the extreme winter weather works in their favour. At 30 below, it's a much safer bet to take in the symphony or the ballet than any enthusiastic outdoorsy activity.

Our fair burg is still in the high school phase of its civic development -- one where the jocks are the popular kids and the "glee" types must soldier on from the underground. Will we ever make it into adulthood and become a proper grown up city with an opera house like other Pacific gold rush spawned cities -- San Francisco and Seattle? Or will we forever be known as the city of hockey riots and billion dollar glow-in-the-dark sports stadiums?

We certainly have enough raw talent here to become a true cultural capital. But talent needs nurturing and support or it runs away to other cities where meritocracy -- not the current system of incestuous mediocre kleptocracy for the few scraps of remaining funding -- rules the day. We currently export young talent like so much raw timber; what we need is the cultural equivalent of tertiary industry.

Thanks to pioneers like the late great David Y.H. Lui -- Vancouver welcomes international artists (like the upcoming National Ballet of Cuba performances he initiated) which can literally make our local arts scene pale in comparison. Cash strapped embargoed Cuba -- like beleaguered Iraq -- where the Music and Ballet School in Baghdad soldiers on amidst IEDs and political chaos -- has its cultural priorities firmly in place. Why can't we get it right?

In Ireland, where language is sacred and writers are treated like rock stars, state stipends for recognized scribes are the norm. Here, pith and wit are overpowered by real estate values and an unhealthy obsession with body fat ratios.

Here's an idea: Real estate developers -- or perhaps successful gym operators -- could adopt writers as slightly exotic pets. Feed them and keep them in subsidized 250-square foot condos until they produce pitch-perfect shelter porn or athletic advertorials.

I know what you're saying, soon all art will be sponsored by Goldcorp and all content generated by robotic elves in underground factories in Japan's nuclear wastelands (oh sorry -- getting carried away there giving away the plot for my screenplay in progress -- trying to get into that lucrative horror film script market don't you know) so why bother? Call me a dreamer already, but hey, you never know...

Meanwhile, at the Push festival -- an admirable smack in the face of cultural indifference, currently offering Vancouverites an alternative to Ron Zalko and netflix -- Lebanese multimedia artist Rabi Mroue recently performed "Looking for a Missing Employee."

The intriguing piece of theatre combined with live sketch art examined the terrifying story of the murder of a clerk at the Ministry of Finance and a scandal involving missing billions. While there was some token media coverage of the affair, in the end, it disappeared from the news. There was something oddly resonant for the local audience.

After a recent riveting performance of lalala human steps latest work at the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts, I chatted with company founder and director Edouard Lock. Would the international success of his company have been possible without Quebec government funding, I asked? After responding with an emphatic "non" he asked me why there was so little arts funding here, a place with so much talent. I just shook my head and sighed.

Later I pondered his words as I walked past B.C. Place, it's roof glowing a slightly satanic red in the dark Vancouver night. I swear I heard a slight sucking sound. I'm sure it was the noise of tax payers' billions being drawn into an uncertain, artless vortex.