The Cariboo Regional District is the first and so far the only regional district in the province to provide revenue specifically for arts and culture.
Williams Lake has had the foresight to declare arts and culture as one of its key priorities.
In short, the Central Cariboo is among the leaders in rural and small city recognition of the value of arts and culture.
So what? Isn’t arts and culture just a frill in a region known for ranching, forestry and mining and celebrated for its outdoor recreation?
Not really. The value of arts and culture in economic diversification, in fostering tourism and in the creation of healthy communities, is, by now, well documented.
A study in Kelowna some years ago showed that the arts and culture activities of the region generated $37 million a year and when the “ripple” effect of related spending was included, the figure rose to $61 million.
In that region, every dollar of government contribution to cultural tourism was found to generate $7.24.
A recent U.S. study of places where arts spaces were created found that specific economic and social benefits included not only drawing visitors to the area but also increasing civic involvement and safety.
The Creative City Network of Canada last year published a study reviewing the literature from Canada, Australia, the U.S. and Europe on the effect of arts and culture in rural communities. It found a wide variety of social, cultural, economic, health, psychological and interpersonal impacts of the arts.
Support of arts and culture fosters a creative milieu that spurs economic growth in creative industries and increases the attractiveness of the area to tourists, businesses, new residents and investments.
Here in the Central Cariboo two developments are moving us in these healthy directions. Regional district support has enabled the creation of an arts and culture service organization, the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society.
With its recently appointed full-time co-ordinator the society is already engaged in encouraging and supporting new work by arts groups to enrich the cultural fabric of the region, whether in the city or in Horsefly or McLeese Lake or 150 Mile House.
The second development is the renovation of the former Williams Lake Fire Hall to become the Central Cariboo Arts Centre.
It is now in frequent use for arts related meetings, events and rehearsals—this past month a Vancouver company, Urban Ink Productions, has been working daily on a First Nations video project.
Thanks to investment in the arts, economic diversification and social well being are making the city and the region an attractive and forward looking place to do business.
Graham Kelsey chairs the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society which took over management of the new Central Cariboo Arts Centre in Williams Lake last November.
Now living in Big Lake, Kelsey is a retired University of B.C. professor who also has a long history of working in arts and culture development in the Vancouver area and around the province.
He served six years on the B.C. Arts Council and for two years chaired the provincial arts council’s strategic planning committee.
For more on the CRD’s arts and culture function turn to our Industrial Update in this issue of the Tribune.