VIVO’s Safe Assembly program: Protecting public dissent during the 2010 Olympics

0 Posted by - February 20, 2010 - Conversations, Features, Policy, Screen, Visual art

VIVO (the media arts group formerly known as Video In) surprised everyone by refusing Cultural Olympiad funding – not because of who they are, but because just about everyone else who was there at the time did take funding. And no surprise. The Cultural Olympiad handed out more than $20 million to local cultural and arts groups. Saying no to money is hard enough, even harder if you’re a cash strapped arts organization, which they all are.

But look what’s happened now. Gordon Campbell’s Liberals have announced the largest cuts to cultural spending in the history of the province. According to the Tyee, the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture, provincial funding for arts will fall a staggering 88 per cent over two years, from $19.5 million in 2008-’09 down to a vindictive $2.25 million in 2010-’11. Artists and arts organizations are understandably in shock, and the $20 million Olympic largess is starting to look not only like a cultural Trojan horse that will leave many arts groups facing questions of survivability, but also like a cynical plundering of the public purse for a two week party of Olympiads. There is a one helluva hangover coming, and British Columbia artists will be among the first to feel it.

Recognizing the complicated position that arts groups and artists participating in the Cultural Olympiad were in, VIVO has created a series of cultural events inviting the wider community to explore the dynamics of political dissent and public engagement in Vancouver and during the 2010 Olympics. One of them is [de]tour Vancouver 2010, a Google map of Vancouver’s history and present of civic engagement, artist groups and local progressive economies (see below), Another is Safe Assembly, two weeks of public conversation about resistance to and criticism of the Olympic machine.

In this report, I speak with Cheyanne Turions and Emilio Rojas from VIVO, two of the creators of the Safe Assembly programming at VIVO during the Winter games. They describe the creative thinking behind Safe Assembly, the programs and performances, collaboration with activists and artists in London (2012) and Sachi (2014) and what happened when Industry Canada representatives showed up at their studies wearing VANOC blazers to shut down their low-power radio broadcast of the news.

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