December is a busy month, with year-end gatherings, holiday celebrations, and special events. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, baking and cooking in anticipation of Christmas, but the holidays took me out of the house just as much.
This year, though, I had an extra reason for running from one side of the city to the other. After waiting more than three years, it was finally my turn to receive Vancouver Public Library‘s Inspiration Pass. Mine came into effect on December 9th, giving me until just before Christmas to visit as many of the attractions available as possible.
Considering the time of year, I think I did quite well. I skipped the garden tours, as the weather was stormy for most of the time I had the pass. I also skipped the Park Board offerings, choosing to concentrate on museums, exhibitions, and performances.
I went to UBC one day, Vanier Park another, then tried to fit in as many of the others as I could.
Some of the highlights:
Speaking of c̓əsnaʔəm, it was very instructive to visit so many exhibits on First Nations culture in a short space of time. The Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Vancouver had sister exhibitions that explored the reclamation of the c̓əsnaʔəm village site by the Musqueam people, with a third exhibit showing at the Musqueam Cultural Centre gallery (which I’ve not yet seen). The MOA and MOV exhibits centre the voices of Musqueam people, while taking responsibility for their institutions’ role in recasting the belongings of a living people as the artifacts of a dead culture.
At the Museum of Anthropology, in particular, there is an ever-increasing emphasis on the institution as a repository rather than a collection. On the tour I took part in, the guide emphasized that the rights and stories of the items we viewed still belonged to the families who produced them. It’s a welcome change from the museum tours of my childhood, which presented them as the remnants of a vanished culture. They’ve also transformed the way their vast holdings from around the world are presented, collecting and displaying European artifacts in a manner that does not hold them above or apart from those of any other culture.
So, when I made my way to the Vancouver Art Gallery, I was very glad to learn that there was an exhibit of coastal First Nations art there, too. The pieces displayed were part of an unexpected gift to the VAG, which has extremely limited holdings of First Nations pieces. There was an acknowledgement to that effect and on one side of the exhibition floor, strong contemporary pieces by Robert Davidson were allowed to stand alone. On the other, historical pieces were paired with vast photographs by Christos Dikeakos serving as commentary. It felt like the VAG was very much at the beginning of the process that’s been undertaken by MOV and MOA. Even the exhibition notes felt sparse in comparison to those for the exhibitions on the floors below, especially those for the show that centred artists like the Group of Seven and Emily Carr, with a number of works that were dominant culture observations of First Nations coastal communities and cultural productions.
The closeness of my visits highlighted these issues, which then followed me to Roedde House, a museum that recreates a middle class Victorian family’s environment. This was an unexpected benefit of the Inspiration Pass and a welcome one.
The downside of getting the pass when I did was that I was only able to go to one performance, as my loan period extended into the Christmas week closure of many performance groups. However, those who get the pass in the off-season can’t see performances, either, so I’m not complaining.
I’ll end with a few observations:
- I’d love to see the pass program extended to some of our smaller institutions, like theatre companies and repertory cinemas. One of the goals of the pass is to encourage Vancouverites to get subscriptions to our cultural institutions, so it would be nice to bring up the profile of these ones. I could envision one choice being a movie at either Vancity Theatre or The Cinamatheque and another being one play from a list of theatre companies.
- In the same vein, I’d like to see the program stretch a little further into East Vancouver. The volunteers I spoke to at the Beatty Museum of Biodiversity had never heard of The Cultch, can you imagine? Let’s get Westsiders to cross the city, too.
- Since performance groups largely shut down during the warmer months, it might be nice to have the option to go to a baseball or soccer game instead.
- Finally, I’d like to see some more flexibility from some of the participating institutions on how groups of four are made up. Goh Ballet allows four adults to come to a performance, but the Vancouver Symphony insists that only two adults and two children can be allowed as a group of four. For those of us who have elderly parents and grown up children, nieces, or nephews, that’s a shame. It also doesn’t take into account non-generational families and groups of friends. I’d like to see that change.
Many of the people I know had no idea that the Inspiration Pass was available to any resident of Vancouver with a VPL card. I’m not sure I should have told them, because they’ve all put a hold on it. There are eight passes per library branch and the number of holds keeps creeping upward. I wouldn’t be surprised if they reach 1,000 for each branch before long.
I’ve put another hold on the Inspiration Pass at my local branch. I estimate I’ll get it again in three-and-a-half to four years. Luckily, my partner has a hold on one, too. He’ll get it in two years or so. That’s not so long to wait.