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Friday, June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023

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In Our View: Vancouver arts center plan a positive proposal

The Columbian

Plans for an art and cultural center near downtown Vancouver are ambitious and inspiring. Whether they are overly ambitious is open to debate and should generate robust public discussion.

Those plans are in the early stages, with details remaining to be expanded. Yet while we can already hear the arguments that the city should be focusing on “more important” things, we choose to emphasize the intrinsic value the arts provide to a community.

Plans reported Friday indicate that the former Vancouver Community Library, at the intersection of Mill Plain Boulevard and Fort Vancouver Way, will be redeveloped. As an online project page puts it: “The arts hub will connect people through arts and culture in shared activities, creative collaboration, public discussions, festivals and events. The arts hub will be a source of community pride and a beacon for Vancouver’s cultural expression and artistic spirit.”

The Columbian reports that the project could cost between $13.5 million and $17.5 million and that, “The 50,000-square-foot center will house classrooms, exhibit spaces, a community kitchen and cafe for art classes, events and artist residencies.” City officials are working with the Vancouver Culture, Arts & Heritage Commission to develop renderings, create programs and find revenue for the center.

Arts and intellectual pursuits often draw scorn from segments of the public. Even public libraries throughout the country are facing criticism and threats of defunding from pundits who fabricate reasons to oppose public institutions.

In addition, arguments always can be posited that other issues should take priority over creating a space for the arts.

With that, we are reminded of a long-ago series of articles The Columbian called “The Funk Factor.” The premise: Creative pursuits are essential for a full-service community, creating vibrancy that enhances the quality of life, attracts residents and businesses, and boosts the local economy.

As The Columbian wrote at the time: “A growing body of studies say to really breathe life back into a city, drop your eyes from the towering edifices and look at the people — specifically, creative people. National studies show jobs are created and economies are stimulated by supporting the arts and a creative workforce.”

As the National League of Cities has written: “The arts and culture generate tax revenue far beyond any government investment, adding dollars to city coffers and helping city budgets. For example, the arts constitute a bigger share of America’s GDP than construction or agriculture.”

Vancouver leaders have recognized that. In the past decade, they officially designated a Vancouver Arts District, ranging roughly from Sixth Street to 15th Street, and from Esther Street to Fort Vancouver Way.

Promoting the arts provides a sense of community and lends energy to a region. As the league of cities adds: “Leaders across the nation are seeking to revitalize and grow their cities into vibrant communities — and the arts are part of a larger set of tools to accomplish that goal.”

With traditional manufacturing leaving city centers in recent decades, those cities have depended upon a creative economy for revitalization. Vancouver would be wise to continue following that path, embracing the vision that accompanies the arts.

Details about the proposed arts hub remain to be hashed out, and public input is being welcomed at www.beheardvancouver.org/vancouver-arts-hub. But the project sounds like a positive step toward a vibrant future.