Arts Matter: The Path To Reconciliation

Two weeks ago, myself and two of our board members were blessed to attend the Arts B.C. Conference The Wave Forward: New Fundamentals of Arts and Cultural Leadership.

It was an intense weekend of learning and networking with fellow arts administrators and facilitators from all over British Columbia. The beautiful setting of Ucluelet and Tofino was the backdrop to workshops, round tables and presentations related to a wide range of important issues related to the arts.

We learned about longstanding non-profit topics such as board governance, volunteer care and management, strategic planning, grant writing, festival planning and more. We also learned about the more contemporary ideas such as cultural tourism, social enterprise, non-profit branding and developing a cultural plan with local municipal government. We also learned that the current most important focus for arts organizations is and must be the path towards reconciliation.

With Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Gwawaenuk Elder as a member of the Survivors Committee, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) engaged Canadians in dialogue and transformative experiences that revitalize the relationships between Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. It is the vision of a “vibrant, inclusive Canada where all peoples achieve their full potential and shared prosperity.” As part of this process of reconciliation the TRC’s June 15, 2015 Final Report also includes 94 Calls to Action. These calls include actions related to education, youth programs and language and culture, among many other issues.

On the final day of the conference we attended the Finding Common Ground presentations, lunch and closing ceremonies at the Best Western Tin Wis Resort in Tofino. The conference room had been a residential school. In this setting we heard the hard truths of settlement from master carver Joe Martin, photographer Melody Charlie and more. Also in attendance were artists Jason Titian, Marika Swan and Cathi Charles Wherry. The energy in the room became increasingly palpable and reached a very real level of respect and compassion when Melody Charlie had to find silence to still the tears that arose from the pain in telling her story. In a room full of 100 people, myself and our vice-president Laurel Burnham weeped openly as our hearts were broken open by what we heard and felt. Even as I write this my heart is swelling once again.

The space for this article does not allow for me to elaborate fully on what we learned an experienced on this final day of the conference. While the final performance by the Le-La-La Dancers was beautiful and entertaining. The drive home was a relatively silent one as we sat with the responsibility we have as arts and culture facilitators to help guide our community to true understanding, love and a united future with our First Nations brothers and sisters.

The understanding of this responsibility is reiterated strongly at the provincial level. Monique LaCerte, community arts Development and Partnerships Officer at the Province’s arts-funding Agency, BC Arts Council (BCAC), stated that in forthcoming changes to BCAC grant programs, successful grant applicants will and must demonstrate clear and sustainable dedication to the TRC Calls to Action in their programs, services and partnerships.

If compassion and truth are not motivation enough for arts organizations to open their programs and services, the dedicated ‘money move’ from funding agencies such as BC Arts Council should help drive the cause home.

Our newly formed Indigenous Awareness through the Arts Committee (IAAC) will be bringing TRC education and awareness to our membership and general public through workshops, presentations, film screenings, artist collaborations and round table discussions. Please contact us directly to find out more about this program or follow our Facebook events at We are proud to partner with the En’owkin Centre and the Penticton Indian Band to bring this good work to our community.

The Penticton and District Community Arts Council was formed in 1960, the mandate being to stimulate, encourage and foster the arts in our community. Throughout the years the Arts Council has added arts events, programs, public education and outlets for arts and crafts. It has lobbied for the arts locally, provincially and federally and continues to provide, through the Leir House Cultural Centre, a home for a myriad of cultural groups.

Vaelei Walkden-Brown is the executive director of the Penticton and District Community Arts Council.