A Look Back on 10 Years of Culture Days in BC

Kristen Lawson – September 5, 2019

Culture Days in BC has grown from a handful of organizers to a cultural institution, with 500+ activities offered to 200,000+ attendees each year. In celebration of our tenth anniversary we’re looking back at the journey from 2010 to now.

Since 2010, the Culture Days national office has worked together with provincial Culture Days representatives to bring arts and culture events to communities across Canada. Lucille Pacey, current chair of the national board and founding member of BC Culture Days (BCCD), thought the idea of participating in the Pan-Canadian initiative was a no-brainer, “because everybody agreed that it was important to find ways to open the doors and demystify the arts, encouraging more people to feel welcome in our theatres, public spaces, and galleries.”

Here, There, and Everywhere

Photo: Surrey Launch Event 2014 by Amanda Peters.
Photo: Surrey Launch Event 2014 by Amanda Peters.

In 2011, the Culture Days national launch was held in Vancouver in partnership with the CBC. Hamilton Street was closed to traffic and stages were set up next to the CBC Vancouver Centre.

“We had displays, we had huge community groups participating, and there was a really strong buzz in the community. That showed us that we could match the bar and maybe exceed it,” said Lucille Pacey.

For the first few years BCCD was managed by a volunteer task force, relying on the national office for support. By partnering with the Society to Bridge Arts and Community, BCCD was able to hire a local coordinator to work with community organizers, and manage the provincial campaign.

Nazanin Shoja took up the reigns of the new BC provincial office in 2013. Pacey said, “Once Naz arrived, we were able to take off.”

“Culture Days has changed over the years to address the needs of organizers, to create more opportunities for community engagement,” said Shoja.

They began appointing local artists as ambassadors who promoted Culture Days and put on events in their communities. The program grew from having one ambassador in 2013 to ten for the tenth anniversary.

Ten senior artists have also been appointed this year to mentor the ambassadors. “The connections made and experience acquired through mentorship can be life-changing for an artist,” said Shoja.

In 2013, BCCD also began giving a grant to a different community each year to host the provincial launch event. Shoja lists the Culture Days parade down the streets of Nelson as one of her most memorable moments. This year the launch event will be held in Mission with performances from local artists, culinary samplings, hands-on activities, and a special greeting from multi-platinum selling artist, Carly Rae Jepsen, who was born and raised there.

Poster Child

Photo: Dance Presentation Richmond 2012
Photo: Dance Presentation Richmond 2012

Richmond was one of the first communities to jump on the bandwagon, and they did it with vigour. While they had other initiatives aimed at featuring local arts and culture, former manager of Cultural Development, Liesl Jauk, found that Culture Days allowed them to focus their energy on one particular weekend that people would look forward to all year.

Pacey says that Richmond was a poster child for BC Culture Days. “They were able to show people how to work through the auspices of a municipal government. North Vancouver was the same, Burnaby, all of those communities really understood how they could leverage through their existing portfolios.”

Jauk explained, “in order for it to be successful, we needed to provide the promotional engine for the arts groups and artists that were participating. What was in it for them is that they got to piggyback on something that we were doing in a robust way.”

She’s referring to the posters, newspaper ads, transit shelter ads, street banners, printed programs, and more that the City of Richmond provides to promote Culture Days. They also provide free space for activities in the Richmond Cultural Centre.

Katie Varney took over from Liesl Jauk in 2016. Varney said that the addition of hubs (collections of events connected geographically) this year helps her strategize her marketing efforts. “It allows me to build campaigns specific to locations. I can do one campaign geared towards people that might go to Steveston, and one for people who might take in activities at the Minoru Precinct.”

She believes that Culture Days is a valuable platform to help artists share their creative processes and experiences. “They can share their creative talents with the community and use it as a great promotional tool.”

A New Partnership

Photo: West Kelowna Launch Event 2016 by Joanne LoFuedo
Photo: West Kelowna Launch Event 2016 by Joanne LoFuedo

In 2014, Julia Trops brought West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation, and local artists and businesses together to organize Culture Days in their region. After the BCCD events, Trops emailed everyone who had participated, asking them to form an arts council. Within months the Suk’wtemsqilx’w West Kelowna Arts Council (SWAC) was born.

“Culture Days is an underutilized event by communities, and I would really like to see more municipalities get involved. Having the community of artists come together like that, working towards a common goal, and celebrating each other and their work, that was pretty special,” said Trops.

“My vision was that the artists would work with the businesses, and the businesses would understand how much work it was to be an artist, and that each would influence the other. That presence, that awareness, was what made everything so successful.”

The Beat Goes On

Photo: Port Theatre Nanaimo 2014 by Lucy Morel
Photo: Port Theatre Nanaimo 2014 by Lucy Morel

Culture Days continues to grow and evolve. 2019 saw the launch of a new website, new branding, new registration process, and the ability to create collections of events online.

Katie Varney concluded, “I can't see any reason why we wouldn't continue participating in Culture Days. It's got such momentum now that come registration time in June, people are already starting to look forward to planning their events for September.”

Hero photo: Filipino Music and Dance Kelowna 2013 by Glenna Turnbull