- BC Games
Behind the scenes of Richmond’s arts renaissance
Wherever you turn in Richmond, you can see real-time evidence of the vibrant arts scene happening in the city.
“…Richmond’s home to great musicians, renowned artists, wonderful choirs, compelling theatre, dance schools, historians, instrument makers, public art, architectural icons, community galleries, and a diverse population only too eager to share the traditions of their home cultures in a new context to a new audience,” said Sal Ferreras, renowned musician and music producer, and the new provost and vice president, academic for Kwantlen Polytechnic University, who, with his family, lived in Richmond for 10 years.
“This is the place of culture — the interchange and interaction of ideas and action. Richmond is also about to welcome a signature school of design that will redraw the Lower Mainland map of influential hubs of creativity…
Why is such a creative renaissance happening in Richmond?
“Back in 2004, our council adopted the first art strategy. It was part of the vision for Richmond to be the most well-managed, livable and appealing city,” said Jane Fernyhough, who started in her position as Director, Arts, Culture and Heritage Services for the City of Richmond in 1998.
“It all comes back to supporting that [strategy] — to create a thriving, cultural life with opportunities for participation to make sure the arts are accessible and that artists here feel like they have a place and we’re contributing to the livability of the city.”
Policies like the arts strategy, which was updated in 2012, and the city’s Official Community Plan, which contains a chapter dedicated to embedding arts, heritage and culture — one of the few such chapters in any jurisdiction in B.C. — have led to an atmosphere that embraces the arts as well as important bricks-and-mortar changes. Besides the upgrades to the Cultural Centre, these include the city centre’s new cultural precinct, which, in the next few years, will see Richmond’s first affordable live/work spaces for artists, as defined by Canada Council for the Arts.
As well, Richmond’s cultural life got a huge boost from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. And it’s about to get another when the $36-million Chip and Shannon Wilson School of Design, scheduled for January 2015, opens as part of Kwantlen’s Richmond campus.
The new school of design will not just focus on design for fashion and technical apparel, although those will be important components. The purpose-built structure, which will act like an anchor to the Lansdowne Greenway and become integrated into the urban heart of the city, will be home to all design programs now housed in a tight corner of KPU’s Richmond campus: product design, interior design, graphic design for marketing, and a foundation design program aimed at aspiring designers.
Starting with the architecture, the new school of design will have a huge cultural impact on Richmond as it reflects the university’s philosophy of serving its communities.
Bruce Kuwabara, partner at KPMB Architects, the firm leading the design team, is known for buildings that are open and transparent. Kuwabara, a renowned architect and member of the Order of Canada, is recognized internationally for his work, including Canada’s National Ballet School and Richmond City Hall, winner of a 2002 Governor General’s Medal.
“[The school] will show the activity of design to the outside,” said Carolyn Robertson, Dean, The Chip and Shannon Wilson School of Design. “If you stand across the street, you’ll see students and equipment and fabrics and foam — all of those sorts of things that are the activity of design.” A coffee shop housed in dramatic space that will be open to the public has also been included, and the university is already discussing with City of Richmond representatives how to include programming for “incubators” that can kick start local business concepts.
“Our mission is to invite the community in…,” said Robertson. “To both engage with and serve our community — that’s the intent of the building, our programming, our additional activities.”
But as critical as these policies and initiatives are at building culture, it’s the “people factor” that’s at the core of Richmond’s arts renaissance.
Whether they work inside or outside the walls of city hall, people like Lauren Burrows Backhouse, who runs the popular Richmond Youth Media Program out of the Media Lab, and teacher Debbie Tobin, who founded the popular Children’s Art Festival are making the difference [see article on Richmond youth and the arts].
“We have a community that likes to participate,” said Fernyhough. “We have professional associations like Gateway Theatre and Richmond Art Gallery Association, and we have a lot of clubs or associations — member participants, if you will — that are more of what drives the arts.”
All of these efforts and initiatives are coalescing to drive forward what Ferreras describes as an artistic renaissance.
“[Richmond] is rapidly moving from good to great, and arts and culture in all its dimensions will get it there,” he said.
Along the way, the burgeoning cultural scene is delivering numerous benefits.
“[Arts and culture] is not only a way to celebrate our history, but also to embrace our multiculturalism and to make an inclusive community,” said city councillor Linda Barnes, a strong supporter of the arts who has been a member of City Council for 14 years.
“Art is a non-verbal way of including people and their cultures in their community and, from my viewpoint, it also brings out the economic value of the arts by reaching out to the creative community within Richmond...
“It absolutely can be an economic driver.”
Cultural centre the heart of Richmond’s art scene
If art and culture are circulating throughout Richmond, then Richmond Cultural Centre is the heart pumping it through. Built in 1993, the popular centre houses important civic facilities such as Richmond Museum and the Richmond Art Gallery.
The Richmond Arts Centre, located on the second floor, is also home to dozens of vibrant arts groups, including the Canada YC Chinese Orchestra and — one of the most storied arts groups in the city — the Textile Arts Guild of Richmond.
Founded in 1975, TAGOR is dedicated to textile arts, including quilting and wearable art. The guild worked out of the old, original cultural centre, and was impressed by the consultation process when the new one was built.
“We had the opportunity to specify what things we’d like to see in our room, so we have, for instance, big long cords that come from the ceiling to plug in sewing machines, excellent light and a big storage cupboard,” said Vickie McLeod, TAGOR archivist and long-time member.
It’s support like that — and other initiatives, like the Arts and Cultural Grants — that are “really very, very helpful,” she said.
CT Leung, an erhu player and executive member of the Canada YC Chinese Orchestra, also attests to the big difference Richmond Cultural Centre makes.
Established in 2006, CYCCO is composed of professional and amateur musicians who share their interest in and love of modern and traditional Chinese music. The orchestra has up to 50 members, some as young as 10 years old. Many of them practise in the newly refurbished Performance Hall every Sunday at 2:30 p.m. (public welcome).
“In order to have a performance, or even to practice, you have to find a place that has public access, where everyone can go there easily. Here we have good parking facilities and it’s the centre of the city … and the facility is unbelievable!”
“This kind of place and the size — it’s the right scale for this type of orchestra. If you had to find it yourself, you’d be talking about several million [dollars].”
Enjoy events and demonstrations by the Textile Arts Guild of Richmond, the Canada YC Chinese Orchestra and many other cultural centre arts groups during Culture Days. Richmond was one of the Top 10 cities in Canada for Culture Days in 2011 and 2012.