Why Your Local Arts Scene Is Dying
Posted by Jason
BY THEBARLEYSHOW 13/05/2013
“There’s nothing ever happening here!”
“Ugh, this town is so boring!”
“Why don’t bands ever come here?”
“I have to PAY to go to a show? Ugh!”
I hear things like this, and so many more things being from a small town. I’m sure if you are also from a small town, you’ve heard similar complaints. If you’re like me, it frustrates the hell out of you and the only thing to do is slowly let your soul die. However, if you are someone who does hear those things, and thinks “YEAH! WHAT THE HELL MAN?” or if you’ve ever wondered why your small community’s art scene is dying, then please continue to read on. I will preface this by saying that I am from Port Alberni, a small town on Vancouver Island, so a lot of my examples will be specific to that town. I’m sure you’ll be able to extrapolate from my examples and thoughts though.
So, the main question is “Why is my local arts scene dying?”
There is a very simple answer to that question. It’s your fault. That’s the hard truth. If you’re not going out to concerts, plays, openings, or other arts events in your community, then you’re part of the problem. This might sound like me trying to push the blame, and force you to feel bad. That’s not my intention, my intention is simply to tell you the truth.
When I was growing up, we had a music venue in Port Alberni called “The Academy”. If you remember that place, you’re probably about my age. I can’t even remember the sheer number of shows that I saw there, or how many different bands. What I can remember is that every show that came through, the place was packed to the rafters with young people who wanted to see music, interact with each other, and have fun. As well as that venue, acts like Sweatshop Union, Swollen Members, Treble Charger and other great Canadian acts played around Port Alberni, and the arts community in general was thriving.
After graduation I moved to Vancouver for three years. Apparently during that time, the arts community in Port Alberni came to a grinding halt. I attending an Academy show not long after I returned to Port Alberni, and there couldn’t have been more than 10 kids there, which I learned had become the norm. Tragically, Port Alberni lost The Academy when it became impossible to keep open with the steep decline in audience. This is what happens. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. The longer a venue goes with low attendance, the faster it’s going to shut down. I am not an economist but I mean, how hard is that concept to wrap your head around right?
In the nearly two years I have been back in Port Alberni, I have noticed that there is a decline in attendance to musical performances across the board. Occasionally there are big turn outs to shows, but it isn’t enough to keep the venues afloat. The local stage theatre is a standard in Port Alberni, and manages to turn out crowds consistently. I hosted an all-ages, open mic-showcase that averaged about 15 people in attendance per month. It is a 5$ event, that is coming to an end in June, and I still couldn’t bring people out to support the amazingly talented young people based in the valley. Char’s landing is the one remaining all-ages music venue in Port Alberni, though there is an effort starting to reinvigorate the local youth center. The success of that remains to be seen, but lets focus.
The other venue that is constantly bringing in bands, comics and entertainment, is a 19+ venue called The Rainbow Room. The space is gorgeous, the performers are excellent, and the shows are shockingly under-attended. When the issue of under-attendance at this venue or any other venue has been presented to the public, the responses have been as such :
- “Well, people would come if they didn’t have to pay for it!”
- “Why don’t you pay the bands out of liquor sales so that audience can come for free?”
- “Why don’t you serve liquor?”
- “No one else goes, why would I go?”
- “There’s a party tonight”/”There’s a drink special tonight somewhere else that I don’t have to pay to go to”
- “Well, the reason no one comes is because … the economy and … no one has money for that shit”
- “Shut up, who cares. Bring LMFAO and we’ll talk”
That last one is an exaggeration, but you get my point. I’m sure similar excuses are made all over. The trouble with this, at least in Port, is that it’s basically just bullshit. As far as the issue of charging people to come to events, that is something that you should just expect. If you are blown away by the fact that you have to pay to see music, I don’t know what to do for you. The assumption seems to be that since it’s not a big city, it should be free. The fact is that the artists and performers who you are paying to see are trying to make a living. So, going to see them perform costs money. This concept isn’t new, or hard to understand. As for paying the artists with liquor sales, that is a prime example of backwards priorities. That turns the evening into being about selling as much alcohol as possible, instead of about the performer.
The one other point about this is, if you are INCAPABLE of leaving your house to go out to do something without drinking, that’s a pretty serious problem and you should REALLY take a look at what’s happening in your life. It seems to me that it comes very close to alcoholism. It is fully possible to go out and enjoy an evening without liquor everyone, it really is. If the only way you know how to have fun is going out and getting trashed, then maybe that’s really all you deserve in terms of an ‘arts community’. Strip clubs, DJs, and dollar beer will be all you get, and if that makes you happy then that’s fine. The trouble is that a lot of the people I hear complain and complain about how nothing ever happens in town, are the same people who can’t be bothered to do anything that isn’t “getting drunk”, so, shut up.
Now, onto the issue that really steams me.
“BUT NOBODY IN TOWN HAS ANY MONEY TO SPEND ON GOING TO SHOWS OR ANYTHING”.
I have to use Port Alberni specifically to make my point in this example, but again, I’m sure there is some version of this happening where you are too. I have heard time and time again, that no one has jobs and no one has money and life is so hard and whatever. Fine. Except, I see evidence to the contrary ALL OVER the place. Port Alberni has at LEAST 6 liquor stores that are thriving, almost twice as many bars that are doing just fine, and recent was able to put enough money together to purchase their local hockey team. Clearly the folks of the Valley aren’t as hard up as I would be led to believe, what is very prevalent is a mixing up of priorities. It’s clear based on what I’ve said what the priority seems to be. Also, I know a pretty large number of people who will blast over to Vancouver whenever Taylor Swift is in town, or the Canucks are playing. Again, this would be fine, if they weren’t the same people who were perpetually heard complaining about how boring their town is.
The fact is, on average there are 3-4 shows PER WEEK in Port Alberni. The arts community is desperately trying to hang on in a town that clearly doesn’t give a shit about it. I know some of you reading probably went “THAT JERK, I CARE”, and I’m sure you do. It’s possible that this isn’t about you.
Look, this might have seemed ranty, and hostile, but the fact is, if you ever wonder why the scene in the Valley or in your small town or even massive city is fading, or struggling, sometimes you have to look in the mirror and see if maybe you’re part of the problem. Take responsibility.
If there is no audience, there is no show. The arts community doesn’t exist independently, it exists with your support. Without support, it dies. That’s just the way things are. Go and support the local arts community, go to shows, get out of your house. Your PVR works, so just leave the house and maybe don’t go to the bar this weekend. I’m just saying. The strippers will always be there, the music scene might not be.
Think about it before you complain about how boring your town is.