“While it’s great to remind yourself of all the things you’ve accomplished in the past, it’s also a great time to look at where you go now to keep moving forward,” says Campbell River Arts Council Executive Director Ken Blackburn.
Blackburn is speaking, of course, about 2020 being the 50th anniversary of the local arts council – which was one of the first in the province.
“I think it might come as a surprise to some people that a very blue-collar, industrial, resource-driven community – like this one was at the time – was where one of the first arts councils in the province formed,” he says. “I don’t know what number we were, but there aren’t many that are older than 50 out there, that’s for sure, and I think that’s something that the entire community should be extremely proud of and celebrate.”
While there were certainly a few marquee accomplishments over the past five decades for the arts council – such as the creation of the art gallery – Blackburn says it’s really the behind-the-scenes partnerships and collaborations that have been nurtured over the years which have made it what it’s become.
The council, he says, has put a lot of its emphasis and focus on “arts-based community development” and being involved in key partnerships within the city, rather than putting on events themselves, or launching their own initiatives – although they certainly have had their fair share of those over the years, as well.
“We generally work behind the scenes with other organizations and support them in what they do, working to float all the boats in terms of the art scene, which is in a really good place these days,” Blackburn says. “But in a sense, we need to look at whether that’s the direction we need to continue in. Are there areas we should be going into that are under-served in the community? We need to maintain the partnerships we already have in place, but what does the future look like and how is it sustainable? I think a big anniversary like the 50th is a good opportunity to take a look at that.”
After a half-century of holding a mirror up to the community, it’s time to turn it so it’s facing the organization itself, he says.
“I think there’s a chance to look at re-branding ourselves and look at how we’re perceived in the community and redefine ourselves,” he says. “That’s something the board of directors will do this year. We need to look at whether what we’re doing is actually what we should be doing, or if there are other ways we can be of greater benefit to the community as a whole.”
One thing he very much hopes will continue, however, is the Art & Earth Festival, which had its inaugural run this past fall.
“The Art & Earth Festival is sitting there as a big question mark with huge potential,” Blackburn says. “We really did manage it the first time with less-than-adequate capacity, and that will need to change. We need to build some kind of sustainable funding model for it and get all of the partners together to determine what is this thing going to be? It needs an identity and a marketing plan, figure out whether it should be every year, a biennial, or what? We have a really great opportunity here. I don’t know of any events anywhere else in Canada like this, so we’re well positioned to take the lead and really make it something that can be national in scale. We just need to figure out how.”
He also hopes the organization can continue helping the community move forward in terms of generating more public art.
“If you’re being fair in your reflection, there are always things you wish you’d have been able to accomplish that you haven’t,” Blackburn admits. “Public art is one of those, I would say. It’s been a challenge the last couple of years trying to keep momentum going and the discussion going to get public art back on track. We did have a public art committee at one time, there was a policy written, there was the recognition of the need to create a public art plan, and, for various reasons, everything has been on hold for a while. We will certainly continue to be a positive voice and encourage momentum on that and we’ll always be there to offer any help should we be asked, but I’d be lying if I said it’s not disappointing when we see where we’re at with that.”
Meanwhile, the organization is looking to gather community memories from the past 50 years to help it celebrate. Anyone with arts council memories is being encouraged to contact Blackburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 250-923-0213.