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$2.5 million Cultural Olympiad invades the Eastside

Vancouver-based musician Matt Good thinks Olympic money would be much better spent on poverty relief in the Downtown Eastside. He’s…

By Sarah Berman , in Outdoor Voices: Music, arts and culture in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside , on February 13, 2009 Tags: , , , , , , ,

Vancouver-based musician Matt Good thinks Olympic money would be much better spent on poverty relief in the Downtown Eastside.

He’s certainly not alone. With a crumbling world economy, growing city debt and increasingly visible street poverty, it’s no surprise many Vancouver residents are reconsidering their support for the two-week, $6 billion event.

But despite extensive criticism, the Olympic machine keeps on rolling. To remind us all of the inevitable 2010 Games (or perhaps convince us this whole shebang is really worthwhile) the folks at VANOC have launched a seven-week cultural festival.

The 2009 Cultural Olympiad kicked off with a Chinese New Year celebration throughout the streets of Chinatown, Feb. 1.
The 2009 Cultural Olympiad officially began February 1 with a Chinese New Year celebration.

Yes, the 2009 Cultural Olympiad is upon us, which boasts over 400 events spanning from February 1 to March 21. Many Canadian musicians have been scheduled to appear (including Chad VanGaalen, Hawksley Workman, Broken Social Scene, Tegan and Sara, Joel Plaskett and of course Sarah McLachlan) as well as a wide variety of art, dance and theatre exhibitions.

A few of these events are happening within the borders of the Downtown Eastside. For example, the Chinese New Year Parade marched through East Pender street February 1 (complete with Olympiad-brand signage). In addition, a pair of performances—Japan’s Awaji Puppet Theatre and Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin—will grace the stage of the Firehall Arts Centre, located at the corner of Cordova and Gore.

VANOC estimates the pricetag on the Cultural Olympiad is about $2.5 million. While that is only a small portion of the aforementioned $6 billon currently being spent on Olympic infrastructure, athletic venues and marketing, it’s still enough capital to provide overnight shelter for 163 people for a full year, according to a study conducted at SFU last year.

Although the greater city of Vancouver is well represented throughout the Olympiad, very few of these artists were chosen from the Downtown Eastside, and even less effort is being put into sustaining a long-term artistic community in the neighbourhood.

Although I am generally a supporter of all things artsy, this year’s Cultural Olympiad has me wondering whether it’s worth it.

Ed. note: For more detailed commentary about the Cultural Olympiad and other issues related to the 2010 games, see Megaphone Magazine’s Olympics Issue, out today. Photo courtesy of Antony Pranata.