By Lewis Evans –

What does art mean to you—if anything? Is it merely decoration, an emotional response to a memory, an illustration of something familiar, something creative you simply like but you don’t know why, an investment, a space-filler, or something else entirely?

“What burns beneath,” original artwork by Lewis Evans.
“What burns beneath,” original artwork by Lewis Evans.

Whatever you may think, you are probably not thinking that art can fuel economic prosperity for your community, put it firmly on the map in innovative and exciting ways, and facilitate income-generation for a whole host of local businesses. But that’s what it can do. Here’s how it has done just that in other communities.

Let’s start with a well-known example. In 1986, Bilbao, an industrial city in northern Spain, was in decline. Basque separatists were wreaking havoc and the city was in crisis. Bilbao was a former manufacturing centre, but its factories were closed and its port run down. That’s when the city’s leadership took an incredibly bold step and decided to build an exciting future for the community. They hired renowned architect Frank Gehry, and spent US$86 million on a stunning art gallery that opened to worldwide acclaim in 1997, and another US$36 million on world-class art. People flocked to Bilbao and the city recouped the cost of the building within three years.

Within five years of completion, the city had made an estimated US$168 million and enough tax income to create over 4,000 new jobs. Bilbao is now firmly on the world stage, its Guggenheim Museum eclipsing established galleries in more prominent cities in Spain and the rest of Europe and serving as a powerful, inspirational catalyst for culture in the community.

There are many other examples of how the power of art in community has been demonstrated to great effect. However, it’s not all about big money and elite groups. Different communities have found their own ways to promote art and the community to different extents. Locally, take Wells as a great example of a small community fuelled by art and the incredible energy of the likes of Julie Fowler at Island Mountain Arts …which brings me to the key points that make any such project a success.

Artist Lewis Evans in his studio. Photos submitted by Lewis Evans.
Artist Lewis Evans in his studio. Photos submitted by Lewis Evans.

Visionary leadership, a great idea, passion, relevance, and suitability
For John Christie and his wife Audrey Mildmay, it started with a passion for opera, way back in 1934. Since then, the family has ensured consistent growth by employing inspirational directors to the point where the Glyndebourne Festival reaches about 150,000 people a year with 120 live opera performances. Not bad for something that was started in a country home in the middle of the Sussex countryside in the UK. The location is ideal for those who want to get out of London’s congestion to experience the arts in a beautiful setting, and the local community benefits through the provision of jobs and Glyndebourne’s £16 million boost to the local economy.

For Jude Kuznierz, The Beaumont in Vancouver started as a warren of studio spaces where artists could work, and grew into a vibrant non-profit organization that contributes hugely to the local community with arts membership, studios, a venue, gallery, and regular events.

Each of the examples I have mentioned were successful because they evolved from a clear understanding of the key factors as well as the communities they benefited.

Finding the right fit
I’m not saying that the Bilbao example is typical or could even be emulated. Every community needs to dig deep to find the formula that will work. The ‘why’ needs to be asked first. What could be the ‘big idea’? What is suitable for and relevant to this community? Then it’s all about leadership, because it’s not good enough to simply survey the community and measure responses. What is needed is keen observation that leads to a clear understanding so that creative, imaginative, magical leaps can be made that create a connection between today’s unarticulated dissatisfaction and tomorrow’s unimaginable but indispensable, rich cultural life and thriving economy.

Why not Williams Lake?
I’m new to the Williams Lake area and, in looking at this place with fresh eyes, I see a city with huge potential in the arts. It is in a beautiful location, at the junction of key highways through BC. It has an established art community and a big reputation for the Stampede. And, like any city, it has its socio-economic challenges.

Just as Julie Fowler asked, “Why not Wells?” when she saw how Banff had developed its incredible arts facility at the Banff Centre, I ask: Why not Williams Lake? Whether it’s a desire to be a player on the international, national, or provincial stage, why not start to explore? It is said that if you are not creating, you are dying or, at least, just consuming. I want to live a creative life. How about you?

Lewis Evans is taking part in the Art Walk and Sale in Williams lake from 8 – 30 September. He is exhibiting at BMO Bank of Montreal, 35 South 2nd Avenue. Later in the year he plans to run some life drawing, art, brand development, and online presence Continuing Studies courses at Thompson Rivers University. See for details.

Lewis exhibits internationally and helps artistic communities promote their work through his marketing communications consultancy. He works with ‘a beginner’s mind,’ his art being a personal journey rather than a development of technique. His first novel, Hominine, is a critically acclaimed thriller, available at Open Book, in Williams Lake.


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