We The City celebrated how the arts shape our city

Candy Chang spoke about transforming cities through art.

On November 4, an undeniable energy bubbled in the heart of downtown Vancouver at We The City: An Evening at the Centre, an event dedicated to exploring the paramount role that arts and culture play in the makeup of our cities.

Hosted by SFU Public Square in partnership with Vancity, the evening was imperative in the schools’ 2015 Community Summit, which hosted a variety of programs designed to encourage the consideration and celebration of the cities we live in.

Hosting the function were SFU President Andrew Petter and Vancity President and CEO Tamara Vrooman, who set the stage by introducing the importance of individuals, both in institutions such as theirs and beyond, to be engaged in the community.

“What makes a city glorious and great,” Petter posited in his original, beat- inspired poem, “are its universities, especially when they come down from their ivory towers.”

It wasn’t just people coming down the mountain to engage, but creative agents and people from all corners of the city, and elsewhere, who value arts and culture in society. “What makes a city glorious and great are its gatherings and dialogue,” he said.

Mo Dhaliwal, who moderated the gathering, stressed the unique capacity of our city to foster such an event. He noted, “Vancouver has the space, literally and figuratively, to hold an intention. This city moves.” Furthermore, the night boasted an impressively dynamic panel, featuring Candy Chang, Teju Cole, and Buffy St. Marie.

“What makes a city glorious and great are its artists,” Petter said. He was proven right by the evening’s guests, including author Teju Cole, who is also an art historian and photographer. He’s fascinated by the repetition, memory, and layering in making up the fabric of our cities. He imagines “we can draw a constellation knowing that cities retain memory. . . they are unable to forget.” His fondness for getting lost in cities fuels his connection with them. The playful exploration into the world’s city streets is experimental for Cole, who sees the city as “an invention, probably our greatest technology.”

Candy Chang explores the ways in which we can transform our cities into spaces of cultural trust and understanding through art and design. Her work is rooted in the creation of non-intrusive spaces for us to “grieve, gather, and worship together.” A self-proclaimed introvert who draws creativity from a place of anxiety, she is curious about “how our cities foster mental health in communal ways.”

Best known for her interactive public installations such as Before I Die, a collaboration that encourages us to avoid “postponing our greatest needs,” she warned: “It’s really easy to get caught up in your day-to-day and forget what matters to you.” Most importantly, she points to the power of art and community to overcome these challenges.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is an audacious singer-songwriter, visual artist, philanthropist and social activist. She encouraged the audience to “treasure our own uniqueness,” and stressed the healing that comes with creating things, something that is so often lost as we mature into adulthood. “Encourage the child within you, it’s a matter of mental health. Everyone is creative, please nurture that.” Expressing how pleased she was with the gathering, she confirmed that, “the idea that Vancouver is encouraging artists is a very good one. Take heart, and lead with your life.”

Art has the power to connect individuals to themselves, to each other, and to the places they live. It inspires agency, which is fundamental in creating the world we so deeply crave. As Petter said, “What makes a city glorious and great are we — for cities are made, not found.”