Open letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson regarding new plan to fine cultural organizers

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Written for Vancity Buzz by Matt Troy, Director of Vancouver Art and Leisure.


Dear Gregor Robertson, City Council and Vancouver Police Department,

We are reaching out to you concerning the new policy of the Vancouver Police Department to fine local cultural organizers for having a police presence at their event. This letter is written on behalf of Vancouver Art and Leisure, a non-profit artist-run group that advocates for art and leisure in the city. We hope to shed light on the important changes that need to be made to make alternative events safer. We are also hope to share our knowledge on how this new measure will make events less safe and damage our growing local arts ecology.

Alternative events in no fun city

Vancouver has a reputation as a “No Fun City” and some have even used the term, “mind numbingly-boring.” Cultural planners, promoters and event organizers have been hard at work to shed this negative mark from our beautiful city. Over the past several years, organizers have worked hard to create new innovative events that are safe and have a minimal impact on neighbourhoods. We have had huge successes with events in our parks, beaches and streets, with everything from late-night music events, roaming bike parties, and beach-side socials.

These events create new opportunities for the public and enrich our city’s arts ecology. Vancouver is a city of creatives and being creative with our use of private and public space is no different. Our city has been lucky enough to host hundreds of alternative events outside of the typical sanctioned clubs on Granville Street, and these events have served to generate prestige and opportunities for the city to grow. Alternative spaces have served as a cultural hub for artists and the public alike; they are the fabric of our city.

We hope you value these contribution to the city as much as we do. We hope you want great events to continue, safely and permitted. As promoters, we all want to work with the city. It is time the city reaches out to the promoters to make these events possible, legal and even safer. It is time the city works to sanction unsanctioned events. The hour is now and you must act to save alternative events and culture.

Unsanctioned event safety and vitality

Everybody deserves safe communities. With the recent announcement of Vancouver Police Department’s plans to fine local promoters and cultural organizers for a presence at their events, Vancouver’s alternative event community has become drastically less safe. These new measures will only discourage event organizers and the public from accessing much needed public services and may dissuade people from calling for help.

The plan to fine promoters for a police presence at events is dangerous. Everyone should have the right to access emergency services without fear of a fine. We all should have equal access to a police and emergency services, whether you are a local business, private citizen or cultural planner. Access to police services should not be a financial burden on those who seek help.

This new plan to issue fines to cultural programmers will put Vancouver’s creative community at risk. It presents unnecessary challenges to these types of events. It will discourage event goers, and organizers, to ask for help, and, therefore, force Vancouver alternative cultural events to hide from the authorities rather than working cohesively with them for public safety. This is not the right direction for our city.

There are already systems in place to control liquor distribution, unlawful drug trafficking, unlawful city venues, noise violations and more. Fining event organizers only pushes events further underground, and away from crucial resources like paramedics and police services. We need to be bringing these events into the public light, not out of them.

Furthermore, this plan will damage Vancouver’s growing, vital arts community. This new rule serves to keep culture behind closed doors. Major establishments like bars and nightclubs will only benefit from their increased control of late-night culture. It puts larger business owners in a position of privilege, while leaving grass-roots events in danger and fear. It is easy to place a complaint about any unsanctioned event, and have underdog organizers face crippling financial penalties. This new plan does not benefit the public. With these new financial risks, alternative events in the city may disappear entirely.

The solution to safer events is in our hands

A solution is within our reach as a city and as an example for the rest of Canada. For far too long, authorities have taken a hostile and combative approach to grass-roots events in the city. It is time that City Council work to solve these regulatory impossibilities, consult with local promoters and cultural organizers, and make changes to see art and culture, alternative events, be executed safely! The solution is not to push these activities underground, but instead to find collaborative ways to include safety measures into these events, working in unison with organizers. It’s time we cut red tape, and we make the improbable not only possible but certain, free from undue stress, from police intimidation and from financial penalty.

We are calling on the City of Vancouver to reach out to promoters and organizers to help create the city of our dreams. We want a city where the authorities are working to serve citizens and make events safer, more open and brought into the public light. We want Vancouver to be an example of what is possible rather than what is not possible. We believe Vancouver art and culture is worth the extra policing, and creative problem solving with licensing and permitting is necessary. We think cultural activity, including late-night gatherings, is not only important and worthy, but also vital to the health of our city as an important leader in the greater arts ecology of Canada.

We want Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver City Council and the VPD to fight with us for these types of events. We know we face challenges as a community, and we are hoping you can join the mission to make Vancouver a fun and safe, place to live with an innovative approach to licensing and event safety. Let’s work together, rather than against each other to make this city have world-class art and culture. Let’s start new traditions of openness and cross-collaboration.

Together, we have the opportunity to create and grow Vancouver’s culture. If the City of Vancouver wants a lively and safe city, they must work with local planners and promoters to develop solutions, rather than create barriers. They must make these events sanctioned, and possible without fear of police intimidation and financial penalty. The city, and City Council, must view alternative events as important, and a way to promote growth and diversity within their city.

We are calling on Mayor Gregor Robertson, City Council and the VPD to:

  • Abolish the use of fines on event promoters as this process will not benefit safety
  • Have City of Vancouver find new ways to license unsanctioned events, working with promoters to make events safer
  • To view alternative events as an important part of cultural activity that enriches Vancouver

A solution is within our reach as a community. We are asking the authorities to work with cultural planners rather than against, and grow our arts and culture scene. Let’s think of alternative events, open-air gatherings and impromptu festivals as important cultural activity that is worthy of police help. Together we can shed Vancouver’s reputation as a no-fun-city. We look forward to a bright future in Vancouver. Let’s work together and solve this problem rather than make it worse.

 

Written by Matt Troy, Director of Vancouver Art and Leisure. Connect with Matt via email at matt@artandleisure.ca.

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