By Mitch Ray
VANCOUVER — My name is Mitch Ray. I put on events and manage artists under the name Art Signified and I co-run an art space known as Studio Vostok. I intend on using this column to talk about topics primarily within the arts community. Sometimes in a light-hearted way. Sometimes not. At the very least I’d like to offer a thoughtful perspective on things. Today, I am tired.
I had an exchange recently with the editor of another publication regarding diversity and representation in music. The contents of our conversation might be a topic I explore in a future column, but for now the aspect of that interaction that I’d like to discuss is the notion of respectful discourse, which is a seemingly fleeting concept in an increasingly polarized community. I was struck by the passion emanating from each of our perspectives, both wishing for the same end result, but manifested by different means. The fact that this felt rare and exceptional is a sad reflection of our sorry times. It’s prevalent in the arts community and it transcends far beyond this subset of society as well.
We are all traversing the same terrain, despite the legitimate and illegitimate claims that we are disconnected. A person I have great respect for in the arts community told me that Vancouver has the highest concentration of artists of any “major” city in North America. It’s because geographically we are very small compared to some other cities, and within our already small city the crux of the artistic community lives and operates in an even smaller condensed area. We’re also supposedly “connected” even more since the advent of social media, yet amongst all this proximity people are often distant and antagonistic. We have many severe problems that other cities do not have, but this closeness is not a problem. It’s a luxury. It’s an opportunity to educate from within. Is there a limit to how far one can go as a “successful” artist in Vancouver? Probably. But being able to make an impact on important problems within one community is more attainable here than elsewhere, in theory. Perhaps this closeness serves to enhance the intensity of certain issues. Social media seems to bring out the worst in a lot of people. It can give a vehicle for the most negative traits in an individual. I have seldom seen a respectful, rational or productive online debate about a serious and relevant issue that seriously needs to be resolved.
I don’t think it’s an absurd assertion to encourage people to listen instead of ignore, or to inform instead of lambast. It’s a more productive step for the majority of a lot of these issues that desperately require resolution. The fact that we actually need resolution seems to be lost in the fray entirely. Are things actually getting better at this rate? I don’t believe they are. Of course there are instances where nothing can be done, unfortunately. Some people are garbage, some people never learn and some people will say those things about others without ever having made the effort to educate them. Social responsibility is a role that I embrace, but the burden is a heavy one and I don’t wish that weight on anyone who isn’t willing to shoulder it. When you have a platform, you should use it. Not everyone is built for that. People need to understand that.
What exactly am I getting at? I don’t know. And that is exactly the point. I don’t have the answer and most of you don’t either. If you don’t know, you should listen. For those of you who were expecting a written piece rife with the humour you may have come to know me for, my apologies. I haven’t found much to laugh about lately.
Mitch Ray puts on events and manages artists under the name Art Signified. He also co-runs an art space in Vancouver known as Studio Vostok located at 246 Keefer.BC, British Columbia, diversity in media, diversity in the arts, Mitch Ray, Studio Vostok