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OPINION: Vancouver Music Strategy strikes mostly sour notes

The three-year Vancouver Music Strategy that passed through city council last week is a colossal flop.

 Crowd in silhouette during a live music show/ShutterstockCrowd in silhouette during a live music show/Shutterstock

Were I still writing reviews, I would hardly know where to start in panning the Vancouver Music Strategy. Is it the missed notes? The off-pitch, wrong key, weak repertoire? The audience disconnection, the poor arrangement, or the lack of harmony?

Many other cities have found ways to preserve, nurture and proudly present music. Vancouver hasn’t discovered its voice, identified its preferred instrument or found the songsheet.

The three-year production that passed through council last week is a colossal flop. As a leadership document, it might be the least inspiring reason to go into the music business that any city could provide, so hollow are its commitments and so annoying are its bromides.

Its “recommendations” are intangible, using the word “explore” so often you’d think you were reading a mining prospectus. Its most resolute approach to fix the problems is in yearning to “work with” others. Its deliverables are hardly more than determinations to keep thinking about it.

I happen to love live music — saw some last week, seeing some next. My journalism start came in writing about music and I still keep tabs on everything new. I likely bought my car more for its sound system than its brake system.

My declared bias, then, is for a city that accords space and even financial support in appreciation of local prowess and assistance for wider access to performances in the usual and unusual places that make for wonderful memories. We’re not talking Bombardier money here.

Other communities do something when faced with the loss of jazz clubs or silly restrictions on spontaneous street performances or irrelevant regulations on empty industrial districts that could house enlivening late-night warehouse shows. In the grand scheme of a city’s preparedness, this concept hardly stirs DEFCON 1.

But about the best Vancouver can do in a 64-page strategy is chronicle the anxiety, tensions and pain points. The diagnosis is welcomed, doctor, but how about a prescribed treatment?

We know that a) most musicians are impoverished and b) Vancouver is an expensive city. If we want a) to survive b), in the nearly three years of studying and visioning the authors of the strategy needed more than to produce a platinum album in dithering.

Thus: no commitment to all-ages shows in venues, no tax breaks for property owners to keep music at the margins alive, no new funds to stage local music, no initiative for performances in our schools in winter or parks in summer or community centres during the evenings or on weekends, and utterly no determination to make music essential as walking-distance culture in each neighbourhood.

On and on, page after page, we get “explore” and “work with” and, oh yes, “consider.”

That Vancouver council ticked the box on this miasma as part of an arts and culture policy for the next decade should cause us concern. The few tangible morsels — ostensibly to thankfully help Indigenous and underrepresented artists gain greater visibility through direct help — stop far short of what would more thoroughly and thoughtfully make this city audibly vibrant.

There is a new “music staff” position being created at the city, an encouragement of a “music development” job to be created by industry, and beyond that the possibility of a Vancouver music task force and an industry music development office — something, yes, to “explore.”

It is a conceit for the authors of the report to lump Vancouver in with places like Austin or Berlin or Melbourne — much less its claim to be part of a “movement” with New York and Los Angeles — as cities with clear visions and supportive expressions, any more than I could adhere my beer-league hockey team to the NHL. Those cities are music magnets with a history of cultivating music as an element of identity. We would be posers in that parade.

The report correctly notes: “Vancouver’s music communities are challenged by the lack of available opportunities for artist discovery, audience development, and awareness, leading to a lack of presence and visibility in city life. There is a need to strengthen relationships and build greater trust between the City, the artistic community and industry.”

Well put, well past time to do more than explore, particularly when that doesn’t seem to mean digging in.