Last week’s Arts and Culture Summit was, in some ways, an indicator of our community’s readiness for investment in arts infrastructure. The big take-away for us is that we remain optimistic but have much work to do. It’s clear that for Vancouver and Clark County, there are both awesome opportunities and stubborn challenges.

At last week’s sold-out event, we heard from experts who know how to make things happen—people who know how to cultivate arts communities and build arts centers. We received gems of advice and insights that were truly inspiring. Yet at the same time, the daunting need for continued outreach and community awareness was clearly evident.

Our facilitator, Kris Tucker, former director of the Washington State Arts Commission, kicked off the day with a quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And so we move forward.

A few themes popped up repeatedly in the discussion of creating spaces for the arts. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Whatever you want to do, someone else, somewhere, has already done something similar. Learn from them. When creating an art space, begin with what the artist needs: the making should come first, then the showing. Create a culture of engagement with the arts.

This last one is perhaps the hardest and, of course, it’s an essential precondition for success.

Not only do we need to create a culture of engagement with the arts, we need to enlighten many in the community that “art” is much more than décor. Art in its historical, profound, and life-changing manifestations must be present in our lives in order for us to know what it is. And to achieve our vision for this community, the importance of arts and culture to economic vitality must be viscerally understood by our leaders.

So where do we begin?

Here is a thought: One of the very last questions to our panel elicited a brilliant response by dance and public installation artist Linda K. Johnson. Johnson points to a way forward that could be taken in the short term while long-term infrastructure is in development.

Audience Question: 

One of the challenges for Vancouver, I think, and probably many other communities is, in order to build enough support for the arts, you have to engage people who don’t normally seek out creating and being involved in the arts, and I’m just wondering if anyone here has experienced trying to do that because I think that, in my mind, one of the strongest components of building an arts community should be to build arts into the community.

Linda K. Johnson: 

If you can create a temporary project that lives right among the people so anybody and everybody is bumping into it and has a chance to be moved or awed or pleased or enlightened by that project, you naturally create converts because with the right artist, they’re talking to people about what they are doing and why this is art and there could be more things like this.

So one of the ways to “convert” people or to get them excited is to put something in their midst that is temporary but elegant and awe-inspiring that’s going to last a little bit of time, and it gives people a chance, over time, to engage, to talk about—for [a culture of arts engagement] to happen organically on its own.

And there are many, many examples of things like that and many amazing artists in this region that work like that. And that could be a “liquid” infrastructure that goes in long before the campus of buildings that you’re talking about. A kind of series—a ladder—of these kind of public projects that are temporary that allow people to sort of build their curiosity about what it would mean to have arts in their midst on a more regular basis.

—Cam Suttles

Watch the Summit morning presentations and panel discussion on CVTV.