Readers, my head hurts. I’ve been thinking way too much about the question of Is Vancouver “No Fun Town” or not!?, and thinking, and thinking. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted. The answer isn’t as simple as I had hoped.
1st, let’s clarify…
Vancouver is not a “cultural vacuum” as one reader remarked. Gentrified and a little sleepy perhaps, but Vancouver is still a major city with all the usual trimmings: theatre, galleries, clubs, ballet, etc. Also, in this conversation, “No Fun Town” doesn’t literally mean no fun can be had in Vancouver. There are mountains to climb, and beaches to lie on (well…, from mid-July to Sept 1st anyways), terrific restaurants, etc., I know. What we’re talking about is cultural activities and arts support in relation to other major cities.
2nd, let’s break it down, SMNP style…
Size DOES matter: A larger city population means more artists, which means more artistic activity via shows/events. Let’s use jazz as an example (I’m sure the same would be true for many art forms) and let’s say we’re in a small city with 1 jazz club and 50 jazz musicians; there’s only so many times people are going to go out and listen to the same musicians perform. Compare that with a larger city with 2 jazz clubs and 500 musicians. Well, there’s simply more activity, (and more competition, which doesn’t hurt either) and therefore more reason to go catch a show. A larger population also means artists have a greater chance of finding like-minded collaborators, which in turn, can also lead to more group inspiration and more shows.
Let’s just look at the numbers for minute:
Toronto: Population (2006)
– City 2,503,281 (1st)
– Density 3,972/km2 (10,287.4/sq mi)
– Urban 4,753,120 (1st)
– Metro 5,113,149 (1st)
Montreal: Population (2006)
– City 1,620,693 (2nd)
– Density 4,439/km2 (11,496/sq mi)
– Urban 3,316,615
– Metro 3,635,571 (2nd)
– Metro density 854/km2 (2,211.8/sq mi)
Vancouver: Population (2006 Census)
– City 578,041 (8th)
– Density 5,335/km2 (13,817.6/sq mi)
– Metro 2,116,581 (3rd)
Calgary: Population (2006)
– City 988,193 (3rd)
– Density 1,360.2/km2 (3,522.9/sq mi)
– Metro 1,079,310 (5th)
– Metro density 227.5/km2 (589.2/sq mi)
Cultural history: A city’s sense of “self”:
The older the city, the longer the history. History and culture are quite intertwined no? Some cities even have “cultural identifiers,” a claim to fame if you will, that they can latch on to and be proud of. Kansas City: “Home of the Blues“, New Orleans: “Birthplace of Jazz“, Nashville: “Music City“, Vienna: “Birthplace of Beethoven and Schubert, etc“, and so on and so forth. People like/need to identify with things to identify themselves, things they can be proud of and therefore support, whether it’s a rich history of music or having a great sports team. I don’t know, this is a bit harder to quantify but Vancouver is a very young city in a relatively young country. Vancouver is indeed famous for being a beautiful place, which is actually, em… a pretty nice attribute really. I can’t help but wonder however, if this natural beauty factor, to some degree, supplants the need for culture.
Proximity to other major cities:
Any performer’s career has to include at least some touring, so the closer you are to other major cities the better: Montreal is 2 hours from Ottawa, 4-5 hours from Toronto and, if you’re willing to get the work permits, 6-7 hours from New York City. Vancouver is only 3 hours from Seattle but,… I don’t know of many musicians who play down there AND I rarely see Seattle musicians in Vancouver. I don’t know why that’s the case,… permit costs maybe?
Affordability and public transportation:
People like going out in Montreal; they go out often and they stay out late. You can tack that up in part to the French joie do vivre (“apportez votre vin” policies in restaurants?… genius), but the Montreal cost of living is also considerably less. Having a decent combination subway/bus system also makes going out more convenient and cheaper. I’ve never made much money, but living in more affordable cities with great public transportation (New York, Shanghai, Montreal) has always translated into me going out a lot more often. OK, New York is plenty expensive but,… it’s New York, and so people are willing to live in shoe boxes so they can go out more.
See? Easily definable elements of what contributes to an arts scene.
At this point, reader’s may think I’m trashing my home town. I’m not. Vancouver is still a major city, still a beautiful city, still has a very mild climate, and still has some fantastic artists. In fact, some of the strikes made against Vancouver are what gives the city it’s charm: It still feels like the biggest small town you’ll ever live in. I’m just trying to identify why Vancouver has a reputation among many artists as “Very-challenging-to-make-a-living-in town” if not “No-Fun Town.” The better I can understand the landscape, the better off I’ll be in figuring out how to make a living there, or not, as the case may be. We shall see.
So,… did I pretty much nail it?… Thoughts?
(above image “Life’s No Fun Flat” by maklenard)