Last month, Squamish mayor and council gave first reading to a large, multipurpose development called “The Village” proposed for Bailey Street that, if approved, would, among other amenities, potentially bring a new hybrid theatre space to the downtown core.
To anyone who has heard the pleas over the years from local artists, actors and performers for another dedicated arts space in town, you could be excused for taking this latest development proposal with a heaping helping of salt.
In short, it’s a tune Squamish artists have heard before. Between Shifts Theatre, Squamish’s award-winning theatre non-profit, has been calling for a new space since at least the 1990s, forced, at various times, to rehearse in warehouses and apartments, bouncing around from storage unit to storage unit as commercial rents have continued to climb, an issue that in itself likely stretches back to the ’70s, when the Howe Sound Players struggled to find rehearsal space.
The same is true for Squamish’s thriving music scene, which, while taking advantage of the growing number of pubs, bars, and cafés looking to expand their lineup of live events in the midst of a post-pandemic rebound and a shifting local demographic increasingly hungry for cultural offerings, still contend with the same barrier that has persisted for decades: a lack of committed jam space to hone their craft.
While there seems to be recognition of this need from the District of Squamish, with cultural venues apparently being considered as part of its Real Estate and Facilities Master Plan, it’s hard not to feel like Groundhog Day when local artists have been banging the same drum for literal decades now.
Much of the debate around the council table surrounding The Village proposal last month centred on whether the five-building development could accommodate daycare, which was floated in earlier designs before being replaced with the 190-seat hybrid theatre concept. Several elected officials questioned whether daycare services could be brought back into the proposal, and wherever you stand on that debate — a growing community of Squamish’s size and demography can and should be able to accommodate both — it speaks to an age-old attitude about the arts in this country, one that is deeply entrenched in sports-obsessed towns like Squamish. No matter how much lip service is paid to the importance of the arts to wider society, they will consistently play second fiddle to causes deemed a higher priority. Perhaps it's best we remember the vital role arts and creativity played to our well-being as we were cooped up indoors for extended periods over the past few, strange years.
There is reason for hope, however. The Brackendale Art Gallery’s new owners—who also run Zephyr Café, an artistic oasis in the desert that continues to host popular grassroots events such as Poet Next Door and a monthly storytelling night you won’t find anywhere else in town —appear committed to making the quirky gallery and performance space a haven for local artists, and their ongoing renovation is a testament to that effort. New Mayor Armand Hurford, a regular at a whole host of recent cultural events, looks to be a committed champion of the local arts scene as well. Let’s just hope the powers that be put their money where their mouth is when the time comes. Local artists have waited long enough.