By Jamie Zabel
Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Taylor
Cultural vibrancy. This is a term that we often hear associated with countries in Europe or South America, a term used to describe societies that are very much in touch with their traditions and where they come from. This term has become especially important since 2004, when the UN ratified an agreement making culture the fourth pillar of sustainable development, meaning that the vibrancy of culture is essential to creating sustainable communities. Vancouver just signed on to this agreement last year. While Canada is not as well known for this worldwide, there are quite a few things we can do to increase the importance and vitality of culture in even our local communities. When I met with Jennifer Taylor, the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Kitsilano Community Center, we discussed the role that culture could play in Kitsilano.
Excellent arts programming is one essential part of how community centers uphold the place of culture. For Jennifer, an important way to keep these programs dynamic and relevant is to ensure that the programs at the Kitsilano Community Center reflect Kitsilano itself. Part of her job is to ensure that the center continues to represent the community by keeping the board accountable as well as encouraging community members to speak up for what they want or need. She believes that “there isn’t a lack of willingness to change, there’s a lack of willingness to challenge those who could effect change.” It is heartbreaking for her to know that the people who don’t feel heard or accepted in their community are the least likely to speak out, leading to them giving up and moving rather than bringing their concerns forward. Jennifer herself once had a concern with a program in which her children participated. At first, she thought that she would deal with the situation by simply not returning to the center. However, she didn’t want her children deprived of the community center experience, so she decided to speak up and air her complaints. This led to her being encouraged to get more involved, volunteering on the board and, later, to the position she now occupies as a liaison to the community. She became an active part of creating culture in her community, and this is something that she challenges anyone to do who feels marginalized or like their interests are not being represented.
However, there is not only a difficulty in getting people to speak up to affect change, there is also a difficulty in getting people to participate in the programs themselves. I know I personally have felt this hesitation before, especially when it comes to artistic pursuits that I am not well versed in, like painting. There’s nothing quite like staring at a blank canvas and wondering how you’re ever going to make it into something worthwhile. This can cause many people to avoid participating in arts-based programs where they feel like they might not be perfect. The fear surrounding perfection and not measuring up makes sense in our digital age, where artists and writers can post the perfected versions of their works without giving any sense of the incredible work it took to get there. All that we see is the finished product because, as Jennifer pointed out, “people rarely showcase their disasters like the canvases that they had to throw away.”
This really is such a shame. It is hardly ever the case that people get anything, artistic or not, exactly right on the first try, so why hold ourselves to that kind of standard? This is where bravery comes in. Because, absolutely, venturing into a space and doing something that you have never done before is taking a risk. But, as Jennifer and I discussed, it is a risk that is worth taking. She also had an experience where she wanted to try painting but was paralyzed by a fear of failure. However, she went ahead and did it anyway, and found that she was able to let go of her expectations and just enjoy the process of creating the art.
Community centers are important places for allowing this kind of exploration and experimentation to take place by providing a space for beginners to grow. While many other spaces in our society only make room for experts, these centers leave room for those learners who are just beginning to discover their passions. This is why these programs are so vital to the cultural vibrancy of our communities. They leave open the possibility of people unearthing talents that they never knew that they had and they allow this to occur in a safe space. It is easy to understand how culture itself is so vital to our communities when you imagine a group of amateurs, all working and learning together, in a space where making mistakes is not only allowed, but encouraged. This is the kind of atmosphere in which relationships are forged.
So, if I can issue a challenge to you, be fearless. Take a risk and try that artistic endeavor that you have always wanted to try, but that you never thought you would be able to. You might be surprised about what you find and who you meet. I know for myself, Jennifer has inspired me to take the next opportunity I get to pick up a paintbrush and give it a try, no matter the results.
If you have any questions about getting involved at the Kitsilano Community Center, or just want to chat about arts and culture in Kits, you can contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org