- Vancouver after 2010:An Introduction
According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), planning for and working to realize an event legacy for a host city is an essential part of being awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The IOC also mandates that each host city mount a Cultural Olympiad showcasing, often over successive years, the best in local, national, and international art and performance. What, then, is the cultural legacy of an Olympics—and how do we measure it? As playwright and theatre director Marie Clements asks in this issue, what is the equivalent for a local arts community of a gleaming new hockey rink or a sleekly designed swimming pool?
The question is an important one, because while it is most often artists who are called upon to produce the symbolic character, festive tone, commemorative feelings, and aesthetic look of an Olympic and Paralympic Games—via opening and closing ceremonies, public art commissions, performance programming, and even the design of medals, logos, and mascots—it is this same group that often bears the brunt of post-Olympic austerity budgets and funding cuts. In the case of Vancouver, which (together with the resort town of Whistler) hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, these cuts actually began before the Games themselves, and as Duncan Low summarizes in his essay in this issue, arts funding in British Columbia has still not returned to pre-2009 levels. One immediate consequence for the theatre community in Vancouver was that even a venerable institution like the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, whose finances were already precarious, was unable to sustain its operations past the one-time infusion of Olympic special event funding. As Clements and PuSh Festival Artistic and Executive Director Norman Armour both note in these pages, the struggles that existed for the arts community before the Olympics still pertain: access to funding, access to space, and a competition for audiences.
Yet both Armour and Clements insist that the 2010 Cultural Olympiad helped them produce work of a scale that they would otherwise have been unable to realize. Employing a baseball metaphor, Armour suggests that the Big Show that is the Olympic spotlight forced local cultural producers to step up to the plate, be it in terms of commissioning new work, forging international partnerships, or making strategic technical alliances locally. Those artists and companies that survived the spotlight, he suggests, found a new level of maturity that allowed them to move forward on their own terms once the Olympics left town.
In the years since sociologist Maurice Roche furthered the academic study of mega-events like Olympic Games, World Expos, and World Cups with his book Megaevents and Modernity, researchers have tracked how cities and citizens are transformed by mega-events through urban development (Burbank, Andranovich, and Heying); security and surveillance (Bennett and Haggarety); initiatives in environmental sustainability (Hayes and Karamichas; Karamichas); restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, as well as the rise of human rights abuses (Lenskyj, “Olympic Industry and Civil Liberties”; Zervas); and the transformation of host cities into “urban entertainment destinations” (Hannigan; Harvey). However, comparatively little attention has been paid to how art and cultural programs are often conscripted to articulate the supra-national agendas of urban mega-events, nor how these programs might also supervene the economic instrumentalism of the Olympic Industry (Lenskyj, Olympic Industry Resistance) through expressly local acts of creative resistance that question expedient narratives of place promotion. The essays in this special issue of Canadian Theatre Review aim to fill that gap by focusing on a case study with which the three of us, as editors, have vested scholarly interests: that is, how artistic production in the Cultural Olympiad and Games is not only a stage for celebration but part of larger globalizing processes through which we have variously assessed activism, cultural expression, and neoliberal governance (Dickinson; Johnston; Harvie and Zaiontz). We brought these separate research agendas together in the summer of 2014 as part of a conference at Simon Fraser University called “The Life and Death of the Arts in Cities after Mega-Events,” to which we invited academic colleagues, artists, and activists from London, as well as other parts...