I found the March 3 Castlegar News story on our city adopting the new culture policy interesting and illuminating. I offer the following reflection.
If Castlegar wants to project an image of a truly cultured city it will need to change the image it projects at the potential visitor. The gateways to our city are emblazoned by the wrong symbols. What was once a nice welcoming sign is now degraded by rather meaningless tack-ons and overshadowed by a huge display of business cards.
Bad taste has run amok. The message to the visitor is simple. It has little to do with culture, or a fairyland even. It simply states: we want your money.
The subtle reference to our new vision statement is intentional. In my opinion, the ‘branding’ exercise was wasteful and served to replace a historically accurate mental image — ‘crossroads of the Kootenays’ — with a fuzzy statement that projects nothing at all except an airy-fairy vision of castles. I believe the old slogan was far better as it affirmed not only our historic relationship, but it also projected a vision for the future which will be fully realized when Castlegar becomes the central city of the West Kootenay.
It is essential for the city to redefine itself by directly and actively supporting the culture enterprises of dedicated individuals and organizations. At the gateways, it needs to present itself as a city that is proud of its past and appreciative of its setting.
My personal dedication has been in establishing linkages between facets of our history and site settings where those stories are best told. Interpretive signs are linked to expanded website articles on a website that I maintain at my own expense (www.trailsintime.org); it sees a lot of visitation from different parts of the world. I think it presents a somewhat more inviting image of virtual Castlegar than the reality seems to be.
We have seen wonderful improvements in our cultural landscape, accomplished by volunteer organizations. We need to build on that to improve the image that the city projects at the potential visitor, both at the highway gateways and in the city website.
It needs to be more inviting. If we really want to present ourselves as a welcoming and hospitable city, it may be proper to make the linkage between the interests of our business community and our cultural footprint less obvious. I believe the current approach projects the wrong image and is essentially counter-productive.
I would be much more comfortable as a resident of Castlegar if the city would dedicate more than lip service to the enterprise of recovering, documenting, preserving, and showcasing aspects of our heritage. Funding for such work is relatively easy to get for societies, as I have found out with my previous work on building community trails. I was able to get funding support for my projects from all three power companies active in our area. Their funding capacity, however, is limited by the constraints of the B.C. Utilities Commission, which in its wisdom has decreed that only funding to non-profit societies be permitted, in the interest of financial efficiency and keeping ratepayer costs down. From my own experience I would challenge that assertion.
Our city fathers need to realize that in many cases it is also private individuals who work in establishing the character of our fair city and defining its soul. Most artists, writers, and historians do not wish to have their intellectual work frustrated by being part of a larger group, whose overall vision may not coincide with that of the prime mover. Such work does not necessarily have the potential of being a commercial success, nor is it in many cases done for that particular reason. It does, however, enrich the lives of everyone in this community.
That deficit in funding support needs to be recognized by local governments in the adoption of the culture policy.