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Wednesday morning, as people gathered at the WISE hall for the first Olympics Resistance Summit, I had a conversation about the arts in this city that had me thinking all day. It’s not that what was talked about was new, or particularly revelatory. It was the tangible feeling that lines are being drawn. On one side are cultural groups that took money from the Olympics, and on the other, those that refused it.
Case in point, the Purple Thistle. The February edition of their broadsheet, The Thistler, features an editorial about civil disobedience and a "riot 2010" graphic on the front page. Conceived as a sort of free school, the Purple Thistle center has become a space for youth to create art and media, to discuss, and to learn from one another. They are also one of a handful of local artist groups that had access to money from the Cultural Olympiad and made a collective decision to reject that money.
“We just don’t want to owe anybody any thing,” said Aly de la Cruz, a member of the Purple Thistle Collective.
De la Cruz says she’s noticed the effects that Olympics money is having on the local cultural scene. “I’ve noticed a real trend of neutrality,” she said. “A lot of groups that have been self-professed as being radical, of being progressive, of being aligned with marginalized people are accepting this money, and I’ve noticed a lot of toning down of their politics,” she said.
The Cultural Olympiad has meant an infusion of Olympics-linked cash into art centers, galleries, theaters, dance companies and other cultural organizations throughout the province. Local recipients of Olympiad money include W2 Community Media Arts, the PuSH International Performing Arts Festival Society, the Western Front Society, the Geist Foundation, and New Forms Festival.
Cultural Olympiad money was spread around the arts community before the B.C. government announced massive budget cuts for artist groups across the province.
Nicholas Perrin from VIVO Media Arts says Olympiad funding is bringing the artists into legitimizing the Games, and is part of an effort to brand Vancouver as a “creative” city.
“It’s going to switch the creative atmosphere more toward a market based creative atmosphere, versus the sort of artist run community, which has just been gutted,” said Perrin. “There’s two levels, there’s the gutting of the artist run culture and a lack of funding that requires people to kind of use Cultural Olympiad money, but there is also the way in which that ties creative work in the city into a particular political project that most of us ethically kind of stand against."
During the Olympic Games, groups that refused Olympic funding, including the Purple Thistle and VIVO Media Arts, are going ahead with critical programming around the effects of the Olympics. Sure, there might be great acts in town, and they're probably brought to you by the Cultural Olympiad. But since the lines have been drawn, those of us fighting for a more just society can't lose by showing our support for artists who have our backs.
On February 12, the Purple Thistle is putting together a youth led contingent that will participate in the torch welcoming demonstration, and hosting an evening coffee house on Friday, February 19. The thistle is located at 260-975 Vernon Drive. Their website is purplethistle.ca and phone is 604 255 2838.
During the Olympics, VIVO is putting on a series of daily seminars called the Afternoon School, and social events at 7pm on February 13th, 15th, 17th, 21st, 23rd, & 25th.VIVO media arts is located at 1965 Main Street, they're on the web at http://www.videoinstudios.com/ and phone is 604.872.8337 ext 1.