Article by Maggie Miland
Photos Courtesy of the Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society
I don’t think I’m the only one who feels my motivation and creativity slowly freeze over the winter months and begin to thaw from eagerness in the spring. People are inherently creative and we consistently feel compelled to make our environment more efficient. With Earth Day celebrations just behind us, world leader elections on either side of that, and my fellow graduates and I finding ourselves facing adulthood straight on, life seems to be revealing itself equally as manmade and efficiency-driven. That is to say, more systematic, hierarchical, and frankly, robotic.
Efficiency has become known as synonymous to rapidity, which also translates to being cheaper. When speed is prioritized, the first thing to go is creativity. As someone who recently discovered that I had the instinctive skill of graphic recording, which involves synthesizing spoken word into drawings, the prospect of stepping into the professional world with this as one of the skills I am most passionate about is downright scary.
But no one should ever be quick to throw Vancouver, one of the largest cities in Canada, in a box labeled “Incapable of Truly Valuing Grassroots Efforts,” because I’ve experienced its presence and impact firsthand. I started volunteering with the Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society (VACS) when Keiko Honda, the VACS director, and I met at the UBC Centre for Community Engaged Learning’s annual Celebrating Community event this time last year. What started as a role behind the camera during a VACS event has developed into a live visualizer of our community’s efforts to proactively reinstate sustainable creativity.
For the third installment of Conversations on SkillShare and Creative Leadership, community members met on April 9th to discuss the topic of Cross-Sector Collaboration: The Search for a Question. As the graphic recorder, I had the unique opportunity to have a bird’s-eye view of the collective effort. My blank canvas was first covered by VACS members Liam McLean and Lara Boleslawsky, who reflected on how their efforts through the organization are mindful of collaboration and take limitations as learning experiences. They framed issues as inefficiencies that can be treated with creative collaboration, whereas many organizations would look at them as failures with no path leading onwards.
Spilling over onto the next section of my colorful notes were examples of Vancouver-based businesses who have flourished on cross-sector collaboration. These professionals include Nico and Pia Boleslawsky of Dundarave Olive Company, Ciaran Olsen of College Pro Painters, Jennifer Taylor of the Kitsilano Community Centre, and Andy Wan from Vancity. While most gatherings stop here, the VACS team led small round table focus group discussions which allowed attendees to identify ways to build Vancouver’s capacity to harbor collaborative efforts.
Highlighted during this time was an issue and subsequent solution that struck me as part of a deeper conflict. One person mentioned the “Starbuck’s Mentality” where independent shops are passed up for chains because of cost differentiation or familiarity in their products. Tacked onto the solutions was the desire to cultivate a “Family Mentality” to support small businesses. I found myself writing “cultural shift” off of that solution and the weight of that task has been on my mind ever since.
It has become obvious to me that a “cultural shift” is directly linked to feeling like a welcome and contributing individual in your community. When looking at the efficiency that steers the majority of big cities with speed at the helm, respect for an individual’s work becomes overridden by a play-by-the-rules-or-get-lost-in-the-crowd mentality. This work ethic does not create stable roots upon which a person is able to feel valued. Although I don’t have the answer to this identified issue, I can say for certain that my creative skills have not gone unnoticed or undervalued by the VACS Team.