From the desk of Mitch Ray
VANCOUVER — In physics, “dead time” is the time after each event during which the system is unable to record another event. I chose it as the name of this column because I believe it signifies the reality of how the underground arts community operates, especially in this day and age, and especially in a city like Vancouver. The artists I’m referring to go largely unnoticed by anyone outside of the community they’re involved in, whether it be through the grind of establishing oneself by playing lowly attended shows, or through the work of DIY spaces that are navigating the ever tricky balancing act of legality and legitimacy. The irony of having to hide to exist, but being unable to sustain without being seen, would be quite humourous if it wasn’t so bitterly true.
Despite being the very fabric of the so-called culture that “our” spokespeople claim to champion (and use to decorate their rhetoric with), the arts community are among the ones who have slipped beneath the cracks, toiling in that “dead time” that isn’t being noted by anyone above the surface. And when the occasional ray of potential light appears in the form of funding or the relaxation of unreasonable rules, I’m naturally inclined to be skeptical of whatever is presented. Take for example the naive excitement that surrounded the announcement of the $15 million BC Music Fund earlier this year. Has anyone you or I know seen any of that? Do you believe any of us will? Are we not part of that group that “develops culture” and “contributes to the cultural fabric of our province”? I guess not. We are the tier below. When they talked about creating jobs were they talking about enabling artists to work within their own industry? Or were they talking about the numerous bureaucratic channels one has to pass through just to be told yes or no?
This isn’t surprising. Nor is it new. We have relatively little systemic support, a police force that at times serves as a revenue collection agency, and a myriad of outdated regulations that are gifted a convenient cop out clause in the form of vaguely worded criteria that allow the powers that be to tread the line between misleading and dishonest. The arbitrary and petty nature of certain processes, coupled with the constantly changing and unclear criteria, can make something like a licence application feel like nothing more than a thinly veiled bribe, under the guise of legitimate due process. It’s a trait of this part of the world; the over complication of processes and implementation of arbitrary guidelines that largely serve the institutions that perpetuate these processes and guidelines, rather than the people they claim to assist. No, this is not the case 100 per cent of the time but it often is, and we feel it regularly in our backyard. It’s a vocalized facade trumpeting arts and culture rendered laughable in a city landmarked by the cruel poeticism of constant reminders such as the old Red Gate now occupied by a Crossfit, or development deals being sweetened by the allure of the very “cultural fabric” they are rendering obsolete.
It’s hard not to feel like the walls are closing in. The available area is literally shrinking. But this is not an excuse to fold. It’s under these circumstances that the finest art emerges and the most creative thinkers are forced to invent new ways of existing, of sustaining, and of thriving. The landscape is changing. The new era of Vancouver is looming over the remnants of the golden age, and although I loathe much of what is coming, I’m excited for the art and music that will grow out of adversity.
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.Art Signified, BC, British Columbia, Dead Time, fine art, Mitch Ray