This open letter was also sent to us from the Hephers who now reside in Fernie.
Honourable Mayor and Council of Cranbrook,
As a former resident of Cranbrook (2001-2011), an artist, and a business owner (2003-present) I feel I have a unique perspective on the arts and the community. I have been heavily involved in arts and communities in Cranbrook, as well as in our new neighbouring home of Fernie. These two communities are so radically different that it is difficult at time to make comparisons or find parallels, but one thing that doesn’t change is that ALL businesses are creative at some level, and having a community that embraces and values the creative process is a huge asset to creating a vibrant and unique place to live.
In simple terms, businesses arise from someone spotting a need, and finding a creative way to fill it. When we were looking for a home for a new branch of our business (which we operated in Cranbrook from 2003-2011) and started looking for a storefront and chatting with people about it in Cranbrook, the kind response we got could largely be distilled to ‘Why would you do that?’. There was a lack of understanding about what we were trying to achieve that was so strong we decided to explore other options.
Just up the road, Fernie offered a very different response: “Why not!” was the de facto response to our idea. What was our idea? To open a retail space for local artists and create a visible, working studio for my work in historic printing and print-making. In Fernie, all of these things were seen as contributing to the vibrancy, uniqueness, and therefore value of the downtown core and community as a whole. As a result, we packed up our family and moved one hour down the road to settle in Fernie. Despite the fact that the cost of living is higher here, Fernie has provided a supportive, nurturing and fiscally viable community to build our business in. The local arts council has supported us in many ways, partnering with us on projects, connecting us with customers, and including us in ongoing programs and participational opportunities that help us grow and connect in more ways than we can fathom.
The local community was divided about the project that moved the train station across the tracks, and rebuilt it for the purpose of the arts, but there was enough business, public sector, and community support to make it happen, and the community has never looked back. That building currently provides a foundation for artists, workshop space, arts guild space, concert space, gallery space, and even a restaurant. It has been a springboard for many local artisans. A quick count shows at least 4 downtown businesses that got their start as students at the Arts Station (The Arts Co-op, Clawhammer Press, The Pottery Hut and Angela Morgan Gallery) All of these things mean that arts funding that arrives in Fernie ends up being very efficiently used in the community to further understanding, education, appreciation and articulation of many forms of arts. This in turn creates a community that supports and encourages businesses and artisans to create opportunities for themselves. Artisans who create opportunities for themselves bring tourism dollars to the town, as well as cultural enrichment, and quality of life. The bottom line is that the Arts Station contributes to the town in all ways: Fiscally, culturally, educationally.
Additionally, art helps a community to define and identify itself. I feel that the Spirit Tree sculpture and the Reconciliation Sculpture (both of with I was part of designing as an artist team with Paul Reimer) have contributed in tangible ways to help give Cranbrook a public identity. The year after the Spirit Tree was installed (ironically the sculpture itself was paid for by a private donation) a 6-foot replica of it was built for the Cranbrook float to send to parades at every community parade in the Kootenays. Former mayor Scott Manjak, who was in office when it was erected, said that he felt the Spirit Tree did more than any other single thing to help give the community an identity. In Fernie, just one of the projects that happens annually is the Banner Project, which puts a banner with locally made and carefully curated art from the community on every lamp standard in the downtown core and along the highway. These banners help visitors and locals alike see how the community views itself, as well as adding beauty and vibrancy to core areas of town.
All of these things are part of making a community a rich place. Certainly art is not part of everyone’s life, but but there are many people in Cranbrook who are looking for those opportunities. To keep an body healthy you need to provide nutrients to all organs and extremities, and a city is very similar. With a permanent home, the Kootenay Ice have thrived in Cranbrook. Having a permanent home for the Arts Council will be a similar and a significant part of creating a community with rich depth and breadth, a place where businesses as well as artisans will want to build and grow. It also creates opportunities for young families and teens to create, to do something positive and creative.
Overall, I wish for Cranbrook that this opportunity to save a heritage building and to create a permanent space for the local arts council is not missed. It will without a doubt make a real, tangible difference to the fabric of the community individuals and businesses alike. The Arts Council in Fernie is a big part of why we moved here, and now our business is growing and thriving to the point where we are providing job opportunities to people inside and outside our region, and drawing money to our community from all over Western Canada. Perhaps we would not have had to move if there were similar opportunities in Cranbrook.
Thank you for your time, I encourage you to make a long-sighted decision and not miss this opportunity to create a permanent home for the arts in Cranbrook.
Clawhammer Letterpress & Gallery
Clawhammer Letterpress & Gallery