Monday, 27 August 2012


"Yes, politics can kill projects - if you let them!", Karl Shutz once wrote me.

Selected murals from Chemainus, British Columbia, Canada.

Back in 1971, way before the internet, Karl Shutz proposed an idea, a vision, to revitalize the small community of Chemainus, British Columbia, population 3,000. 

The town was a fast-fading relic from its past glory in the forest industry. It wasn't until 10 years later, during the recession of the early 80s,  that a young 29-year old Mayor came along to share this vision, and who was in a position to say "let's do it". Karl's vision, the Mayor and community helped to put Chemainus on the cultural map -- a town now nicknamed "Mural Town" for its many murals, with a tagline "The Little Town That Could". 

Chemainus now boasts cultural, craft and culinary fairs, galleries, musical performances, theatre and growing recreation and support industries. This month alone 97 events events were posted to its website; not bad for a town of 3,000 people. 

That theatre in Chemainus, the Chemainus Theatre Festival, has a connection to another leadership story -- one from Rosebud, Alberta, a hamlet of 300+ people.

The connection is LaVerne EricksonHis story dates back to 1973.

About 100km outside Calgary, in the badlands of Alberta, lies the tiny hamlet of Rosebud. It was once a thriving community of ranchers, farmers and miners, but times turned tough and the town faded. Nothing drew people to Rosebud.

In 1973 LaVerne, a high school teacher had a vision. He opened the Rosebud Camp for the Arts as an outreach for city youth, many of whom had not experienced rural life. His original summer camp grew over time and became a Fine Arts High School. Then, in 1988, came a turning point. The Alberta government passed the "Rosebud School of the Arts Act" opening its doors to post-secondary training. Rosebud School of the Arts was based on a guild model, using mentors and outside professionals, that began to attract theatre arts students from all over North America.

Rosebud now attracts over 40,000+ "paying visitors" each year to its theatre and cultural events and a growing cultural community.

Chemainus and Rosebud, to me, are examples where visionary cultural leaders began a creative process that were helped along by the political visionaries. 

Today, our world interacts very differently than the early 1970s. We need, however, to back our cultural visionaries and political leaders who view the creative economy as our new economy. Our political and economic leaders need to understand this change. As, economic developer consultant, Greg Baeker once said "you have zero economic advantage when you choose to chase smokestack industries".

Let's support the visionaries like Karl Schutz and Laverne Erickson. It's time to unearth, celebrate and be inspired by our creative visionaries and use politics to help when and where possible. 

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