Why Pemberton’s (Knight-Free) Cultural Roundtable is Round

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Back in December 2012, the Village of Pemberton put out a call for artsy types who like working in a group. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Like artists who make money? Or who keep spreadsheets? But with more and more big-scale events coming to town, it’s important that the local arts and culture sector is organised enough to represent, and jump on the opportunities those events offer.

We chatted with Mo Douglas, community rallier, engagement expert and cultural White Knight, to find out more.

Who showed up to that first meeting to establish the Cultural Roundtable?

The folks on the Cultural Roundtable are a blend of people who make art and people who love art and culture and want to see it have a bigger role in the Pemberton Valley. We have representation from community organizations like the library, the museum and recreation, along with members at large who want to support arts and culture development and awareness in the community.

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Who do you serve? Who are your constituents/members/beneficiaries?

The Pemberton Cultural Roundtable was created to serve the community as a whole.

The Pemberton Arts Council works to support artists and performers directly with their programs and events.

The PCR works to create greater awareness in the community of events, programs and other opportunities to engage in arts and culture. And we also work to create partnerships and connections in the community that to art and culture opportunities being created.

We aren’t resourced to be the producer of all things art and culture, but we strive to indentify and leverage every opportunity that gets brought forward to the group.

Do you have to be a “maker” of some sort to care about arts and culture?

Not at all. If you enjoy music, performance, visual art, reading, etc. then you already care about arts and culture. But the more awareness we can generate, the more we can increase participation and passion for arts and culture in the Pemberton area.

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A Cultural Roundtable was envisioned to assist with the implementation of the Pemberton & Area Cultural Plan, a rather groovy document adopted in November 2011. Is the table really round?

Sadly no. I’ve been meaning to put that on the to-do list: “Find really huge round table”. We struggle along each month at the square (some would say rectangular) table in the Village of Pemberton council chambers. But the “Pemberton Cultural Squaretable” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

But seriously, “roundtable” is just a fancy way for saying “committee” isn’t it? I read something a while back that suggested that the fastest way to take the momentum out of any creative initiative is to set up a committee. How do you guys avoid that potential for inertia? ie all the effort and energy being squandered attending meetings…?)

Everyone on the roundtable would probably agree. Committees and working groups are often at risk of navel gazing so we focus on actionable ideas that we outline in six month windows. This allows us to make things happen in realistic timelines and look at what is happening in the area over that six months window in order to leverage arts and culture opportunities.

Who sits on the Cultural Roundtable? What does the representation at the table say about culture in Pemberton? Who’s missing? Are you looking for more members? 

The Cultural Roundtable has representation from the Pemberton Arts Council, the Pemberton Museumthe Pemberton Library, SLRD, Parks and Recreation, VoP, Tourism Pemberton, the Pemberton Chamber, Rotary Club and a few members at large. We would love to have a youth member and representation from Mt.Currie. The invitations have been made but lots of folks are overcommitted these days so we just keep the invitation open.  We’ll also do outreach to specific groups based on the activity through our working groups.

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How do people get involved?

We meet on the second Wednesday of each month at 9:15am in the Village of Pemberton council chambers. People are welcome to attend and/or bring a delegation to the meeting if they have an idea they would like to share. We are looking for new roundtable members so if someone is interested in participating, they should contact the Village of Pemberton. Terms are for two years, and we hope to have new members each year in order to have an overlap of knowledge and experience from year to year. We will also do calls for volunteers for events and activities that we are either producing or supporting, so that’s a good way to get involved if you can’t commit to a Roundtable position.

What is a “Cultural Plan”? On the VoP website it says, “Cultural planning is a process of inclusive community consultation and decisionmaking that helps local government identify cultural resources and think strategically about how these resources can help a community to achieve its civic goals. It is also a strategic approach that directly and indirectly integrates the community’s cultural resources into a wide range of local government planning activities.” I have no idea what that actually means. How does a document like that become a living thing? Rather than just an archived report? And how do you translate that into English?

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Promote, integrate and make arts and culture a passionate and accessible part of everyone’s life. That’s how I translate it.

In short, what is your mission at the Cultural Roundtable? Why do you exist?

See translation above. Seriously – this is why we exist to Promote, integrate and make arts and culture a passionate and accessible part of everyone’s life in the Pemberton Valley.

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Why did you say yes, sign me up?

It was in a weak moment, and they showed me photos of kittens and black velvet Elvis paintings. How could I say no? And I have a passion for community engagement. Arts and culture is one of the best ways to invite members of a community to engage more in community life.

What’s the difference between the Cultural Roundtable and the Arts Council?

The Pemberton Cultural Roundtable was created to serve the community as a whole and to lead on promotion, partnerships, outreach and opportunities related to arts and culture in the Pemberton Valley.. The Pemberton Arts Council works to support artists and perfomers more directly with their programs and events – and invite the community in to see the results. They are work to encourage artists to share their work by providing accessible forums that let that happen.

What’s the difference between art and culture?

Mostly the spelling. But to me art is a bit more defined and culture speaks to the fabric of our communities as a whole. You have ethnic culture, social culture, artistic “culture”, cowboy culture, etc. Culture is more about the personality of a place. Art often provides a physical representation of that personality in various farms – visual, performing, literary, etc.

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What counts for culture in Pemberton? I mean, it seems like there’s a punchline coming… Why is culture important for this community? 

Culture helps us demonstrate who we are as as community. Culture can be seen in our events, our farmers market, our art shows, our retail displays, our downtown “look”, our art barn, and now, even our crosswalks. Culture should reflect the spirit of our place and our people.

What are our greatest assets/strengths and cultural icons? Do we have bragging rights? Do we need bragging rights?

I’m not much of bragger but I do think Pemberton has many arts and culture elements to be proud of: Slow Food Cycle, the Farmers Market, the wacky “industrial” art pieces out at Big Sky, the arts shows that the Arts Council produces, the  work of local artists on display at the community centre and a spots around town, the talent of our local visual artists and performers, etc. We should sing the praises of all of these. The more our community recognizes the presence of arts and culture in our community and the talent that lives here, the more people are excited about being a part of it.

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One of your personal passions is community engagement. What’s the connection between an engaged community and arts and culture? 

One of the best ways to engage people is through celebration and arts and culture is so often about celebration. The two go hand in hand. When we invite the community to participate through arts and culture and they have a great time, it makes them more inclined to participate in other projects too like community planning and decision making.

In some ways, I see “culture” as the interests and passions that make me unique – my personal tastes. In a small town, where it’s tricky to gain critical mass on things, how does celebrating “culture” build community? Is there common ground? 

We don’t necessarily need to have common ground. Arts and culture can be a very subjective thing, but shared experience is where the common ground is. If we both go to an art show, we may not like all the same pieces, but we now have common ground for discussion, debate and a shared greater appreciation for the “personality” of our community. Debates about what is art and what is culture only slow down the opportunity to make arts and culture happen.

The major cultural initiatives that have been proposed in Pemberton over the years seem to typically be met with a lot of resistance – the Farmers Market took a really long time to finally establish traction, the Sturdy sculpture at the roundabout was vilified, the Market Barn had opposition, IRONMAN has ruffled feathers and the TwoAcreShaker has had its challenges… What’s the connection between “culture” and a sense of community and identity? And can that actually help when it comes down to the wire, ie when there’s a flood, a wildfire, a death, etc?

Of course it can. When there is a need out there, most often people say “Let’s put on a fundraiser” and that’s usually some kind of show or event. So there is a link between culture, community and identity. I think the challenges have been around event management and logistics, not about the spirit of any of these events in principle.

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In Eric Mackenzie’s article in the Question last summer, Moldy said, “it’s pretty cool that we have a Cultural Plan before Whistler does.”  It’s hard to live in Pemberton and not be aware of the shadow Whistler throws. You personally have a huge amount of experience in festivals and events, having been a driving force in getting Whistler’s festival culture off the ground back in the day… Are festivals synonymous with culture? Was Whistler in 1990 at all like Pemberton of 2014? Are there parallels that can be drawn? Or lessons gleaned? 

Whistler and Pemberton are very different places by nature of Whistler’s primary role as a tourism destination. But that said, with over 2 million visitors a year to Whistler, I think we can invite a few of those folks to come on up and experience Pemberton culture. We already see it with Slow Food Cycle, the Two-Acre Shaker and other events. But Pemberton wants to and needs to maintain its distinct cultural personality. We’re smaller and more authentic. This town’s art and culture scene has grown organically and will continue to do so. Whistler has had the benefit of huge injections of funds over the years to get its product to where it is today. And its primary purpose is to fill room nights. Pemberton is building its arts and culture scene as part of building a healthy, engaged community. Whistler’s events and festival scene has evolved into something quite different today, and this is definitely impacted by the hefty FE&A budget that’s available.

Have events/festivals been identified by the Cultural Roundtable as important? What kind of resources are available to support that? How does that impact the flavour of things that roll out here? 

It’s not our role to decide what cultural initiatives are more important than the other. In a town our size, every cultural initiative matters. Our primary role right now is to build awareness that these opportunities exist and encourage participation and connections that help make cultural initiatives successful. Festivals and events are a big part of that as they provide the most exposure for the public given the greater level of awareness that comes with events.

What is the most important initiative coming this year for the local cultural scene?

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I think there’s three exciting things on the horizon

1) the Downtown Barn and what having a downtown venue will mean for local events and programming

2) the return of the Pemberton Music Festival and

3) this year’s Slow Food Cycle with Tourism Pemberton at the helm for the first time.

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What’s on Pemberton’s cultural plan for 2014? What’s coming up?

Lots – we’re working to support the three initiatives above by bringing local arts and culture together with these initiatives.

We’re working with the Museum to help support the 100th anniversary of the rail line coming through Pemberton.

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Soon we’ll have some more art crosswalks in place for folks to enjoy and we’ve got a few other projects in the early stages through our working groups.

What parting words?

Arts and Culture – get on board. All the cool kids are doin’ it.

 

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