Advocate chosen for arts in the north

The position of BC Arts Council representative for the north has been vacant for some time. It has been held in past years by strong voices for northern culture, people like Elizabeth MacRitchie and Penny Stewart, but no one was in place to advocate for the north since kjhkhkhkhkhk.

That spot has now been taken. At Christmastime the call was made by the provincial agency to Cindy Larsen Marcotte that she was the successful candidate after a long and exhaustive search. After a set of orientation meetings last week, it became official.

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Marcotte is easily the most famous arts figure to ever hold the northern post. (Notables from elsewhere in the province include music stars Ann Mortifee and Leon Bibb, Order of Canada member Nini Baird, actor/producer Mavor Moore and many other luminaries.)

She is well known in Prince George circles as a musician and musical theatre performer including a Sandy Duncan/Mary Martin-like turn in the title roll of Peter Pan in the Judy Russell production done in 2003.

She was most recently the band leader for the group Pink Champagne that counted down the final seconds of 2014 at the New Year's Eve gala fundraiser Boogie With The Stars to raise money for the Spirit Of The North Healthcare Foundation.

But as one of the members of veteran folk-pop trio The Pucks she is nationally known for their four albums and innumerable concert performances on both sides of the Canada / U.S. border.

She said there was just as much boil in her belly to be an advocate for the artists of the north as there ever was to belt out hit songs.

"The learning curve is huge," Marcotte said. "I've already taken reams of notes, I'm reading and reading, learning as much as I can about what all the BC Arts Council does - did you know we run 39 programs to support the arts? And last year the council gave out more than 1,400 grants? It was really helpful for me that Minister [of Community, Sport And Cultural Development] Coralee Oakes spent some time with us too. We are arm's length from government, but we do administrate public funds and we are all there to support B.C. artists and arts organizations so it is important to understand what each other is doing, and since she is also from right here in the north, she gave me a big welcome hug and appreciated that after a long time without one, the north now has a representative at the table."

The BC Arts Council has an annual budget of more than $20 million, used to foster the full spectrum of artistic endeavours across the province. The money is handled - much of it awarded in grants and scholarships - to boost the cultural capacity of B.C. Some of that goes to individual artists to enable better work, and some goes to organizations like the Prince George And District Community Arts Council as leverage money for their grassroots arts development activities.

The overall purpose is to build a provincial identity organically and authentically that will shape the personality of this province long after current generations are gone, but also to stimulate the economy. On the surface level, tourism is helped by visible arts and culture icons, but under that skin, products are invented and innovations of trade and technology are all rooted in creative thinking.

"The presence of art and culture, and access to doing arts and culture, is such an important part of people's decisions to move to a community for their career or to raise their families," said Marcotte. "How do you attract people here? You can't just be about sports or retail or where the job happens to be. We passed that point a long time ago in northern B.C. The B.C. economy is growing and diversifying in some big ways and a lot of that is happening right here in this region. We really are the base for a lot of national-level economic activity. That is going to help the arts, but the arts has to also be used as a selling feature for retaining our people and attracting new people for all that needs to be done. When your next major centre is nine hours away, you really have an opportunity to define yourself and bring out a sense of self as a region. That is done only one way: through song and dance and sculpture and poetry and pottery and weaving and novels. So much of that is done by individual artists, or in small groups, guilds, associations, but if you put it all together, you've got your cultural identity."

Marcotte said the strictest mentality had to be maintained in her mind that the northern identity be far more than just Prince George-centric. As the service and administration hub, and the transportation interchange of the north, Prince George really was, in practical terms, the capital of the region but a world renowned musician might live in Smithers, she said, referring to Grammy nominated international superstar Alex Cuba. A tiny village in the mountains could be a Mecca for painters and actors, she said, referring to Wells.

"Prince George has a lot of advantages and a lot of services for arts and culture, but a tiny unincorporated community can have definitive creative forces going on too," and it was her job to advocate for that no matter where in the north it was located.

Her job, she said, was to get the word out as widely as possible that programs and funding is available to artists located in the north, that most of that was awarded by peer adjudication not a faceless bureaucracy, and if artists and cultural groups were unsure how to apply, she was available.

To make contact, or learn more about the opportunities available through the agency, visit their website at www.bcartscouncil.ca.

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