A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Nini Baird's Baby & The Densification of Vancouver Through The Population Depletion Of BC's Interior
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Next Friday Rosemary, Lauren, Rebecca and I will visit our daughter Ale in Lillooet. We will have to make the decision, the day before, as to which of the least dangerous highways we will travel to get there. The road between Pemberton and Lillooet is nicely banked but it is one continuous curve that is most dangerous in snow and ice. Plus we have to brave the nuts that will be driving to Whistler. The other option, the road between Lillooet and Lytton via Hope is very narrow, full of holes and huge rocks that come rumbling down from the side of the mountain. Often it is closed and then there is no way to get to Lillooet except by going back in some other way.

If you live in Lillooet and you don't own a car you cannot leave town unless you know someone else who is leaving in a car. There are no buses and there is no train. Lillooet has a very beautiful train station.

Sometime in the late 70s, Malcolm Parry, the editor of Vancouver Magazine dispatched me to photograph people he called movers and shakers of culture. One of them was a woman with an addictive smile who very definitely seemed to think we lived in the best of all possible worlds. I photographed her. She gave me a card and said, "How would you like to work for me?" I didn't answer her and promptly put the card in my wallet. In the beginning of the 80s my photographic fortune had its ups and downs, but mostly downs and I searched for Nini Baird's card.

For close to 13 years I worked ( on weekends, three or four times a year) as an artist teacher for Nini Baird's baby, The Outreach Program of Emily Carr College of Art as the institute was known then. Baird had explained to me that a portion of the provincial tax that every tax payer in British Columbia paid was a culture tax. Baird's mandate was to bring culture to those who lived in the interior who were definitely short-changed by the tax. Artist teachers went to remote areas to teach printmaking, painting, sculpture, photography and many more art techniques. The school even had a huge trailer truck that was a "portable" printmaking studio. I went to places like Cassiar, Uclulet, Atlin and all the forts. My students would invite me for dinner in order to squeeze me of more information. They were passionate and perhaps the most eager students I ever had in my life.

When Baird moved to other activities (including shaking up the Knowledge Network and pushing it forward) her Outreach baby died. Baird has worked behind the scenes promoting culture since. She may be one of the only American born women with an Order of Canada.

Every time I drive to Lillooet I think of the remoteness of the place and its dependance on TV and the internet. What do high school graduates do? To they stay? For what? Where do they go?

I had a well known ex BC politician in my studio last week and I asked him how it seemed that we were in a process of densification of our cities by simply ignoring the future of the interior communities. He said, "Towns have come and gone and this will always be a pattern." "There is not way of getting there unless you own a car." He countered this with, "Tour buses can get there."

As I think that those in the interior are still paying that culture tax and getting nothing (except for the accasional tour of the Vancouver Opera touring company or the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) I feel a certain rage and I would almost want to rant here. This I will not do. But I would suggest that we need to get Nini Baird back to see the we all get our culture, plenty of it and with her smile. And we need more women like her and the Celia Duthies, and the Carole Taylors, to help us bring those interior communities back to the fold but not through this forced densification of Vancouver. We need to give the people of those communities a reason for staying.


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