A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a friend of mine who’s a very connected and active member of Vancouver’s local art scene. It took only a few minutes into the conversation that the subject of isolation in Vancouver came to the surface. Mind you, we were not ranting about it, we were expressing our impatience at how “isolation” has become such a ubiquitous word in this city, that it has almost been normalized. For people like Ash and myself who are connectors by nature, we feel that there’s a lot that can be done to help artists feel more connected and to create a sense of community and kinship within the local art scene.
So first we started theorizing why it might be that a lot of people share this opinion, why does it feel so “clicky”, as they say here? Some even can’t help but sense a fear of the other, and a reluctance to be open and curious. The other day, I saw an Instagram video by Immigrant Lessons, where their founder and co-director Kevin Fraser said, “Vancouver doesn’t collaborate on us... we have wonderful artists here but we’re all like terrified of each other”. This thought alone scares me.
My friend related this sense of disconnection to how young Vancouver is and how, when an artist starts doing “well” they’ll try to protect their knowledge instead of sharing it. I really hope artists are more giving than that. I had a slightly different perspective, given that I was “fresh” here, and have immigrated to Vancouver about two years ago. I attributed this lack of connection or community-bond to the micro-societies that I have come to meet while trying to integrate into the art scene, and how each of these small circles was more or less homogenous and lacked diversity. I’m going to allow myself to use stereotypical language here, just to paint a picture of how for someone new to a place, they notice these issues of diversity because they’re trying to sense where they are accepted. The first scene I met was made of predominantly white middle-aged women practicing fine arts, mostly painting, collage, and photography, and mostly worked with conceptual and abstract themes. Another scene I have encountered was more alternative and interdisciplinary, made of visual and media artists, and advocated for LGBTQ2S+ and feminist rights. The dance scene I have come across seemed a bit different from both, but I have to admit, I don’t know it enough to talk about it. I’m sure other circles exist, but I’m not trying to label all these scenes, I’m just wondering why I haven’t met a scene or space where all of these groups interacted. In many art events I attend, age seems a differentiating factor, where an audience would be predominantly senior or young. Colour is another one, where an event appeals more to color minorities or a white audience. In the end, I realized that this is not a problem within the art world as much as it is a societal symptom. This is a whole lot of generalizations I admit but my point is that there are a lot of artists in this city and a lot of small art communities but what lacks is an attitude of curiosity towards the other.
A few months later, my friend and I had another meeting upon which he decided to introduce me to his friend, another curious connector, knowing that we’d have a lot to discuss. The three of us sat and quickly, a long conversation of cracking the connectors code, came up. This new friend had an interesting theory that I completely identified with. Vancouver is an escape place for a lot of its residents. People here are almost running away from a distant past, or coming from faraway places to seek change. So, neither building ties nor attachment for that matter, are their forte. I imagined Vancouver as this place you leave your past life to come to. It has a sense of dream and wonder to it. It’s surrounded by mountains and oceans and you can’t really delineate where you feel you’re in an urban buzzing city or where you feel you’re in nature. As a nervous system convert, I associated this refuge idea to the flight response in our sympathetic nervous system. I recently learned that one of the common traits of people who default into their flight response is a need to move houses or countries. If Vancouver attracts people, who, like me, love being on the move, prefer detachment over attachment, have left a past behind and are constantly ready for the next step, then that’s one big city’s nervous system on flight overdrive. I think about the process of shedding one’s emotional baggage, and how it might affect people’s social interactions, and I can’t help but seeing it as an impediment for social engagement. It’s not a bad thing to retreat and do some inner work, it’s actually very necessary. But how could one balance that with staying socially active?
All these ideas above are definitely speculative, nevertheless, it’s good to productively think about such issues and perhaps even make small steps towards improving our social conditions. Especially when we consider the nature of art-making, and how it’s almost never a singular effort, we realize that if we don’t communicate, and get feedback, we’d struggle a lot with our creativity.
So, to wrap up my thoughts, I decided to add to my bucket list a new item, that I encourage you to consider adopting yourself: a monthly contribution to making Vancouver less “clicky”, more curious and more connected. This could be any of the following:
- connecting two of my connections together
- making a new connection myself
- attending an art event or workshop that doesn’t fit so perfectly into my practice
- sticking around to the end of an art talk and asking questions
- using social media more consciously, instead of autopilot scrolling, use them as a tool for discovering local
people and engaging with them
- raising awareness, sharing your perspectives on the subject
This obviously means that you are willing to free some time from your busy schedule, another bonding antagonist in today’s age. But just like your art practice needs commitment, so do your socially-engaged activities that bring you mental well-being.
Happy connecting everyone.