Squamish 2035: Creating a Vision for the Arts

Editor’s NOTE: Taken from the special print issue of the Squamish Reporter charting the town’s future, this article by Michelle Neilson presents her vision on Arts and Culture.

Michelle-nielsenBy Michelle Neilson
Published: Feb 6, 2015


In order to define the future of the arts in Squamish, it’s important to understand what we have achieved recently in our community and what our goals are as a collective voice. 

 The mission of the Squamish Arts Council is to raise awareness of and access to arts, culture and heritage in Squamish. The vision, however, is farther reaching and longer term in scope. Our vision really is to be the hub for the arts, culture and heritage in Squamish, supporting a multi-purpose arts centre that offers resources, education, programming and performance space for the community. How we achieve this vision and what the arts centre looks like requires a lot of thoughtful planning and community engagement.

The SAC Board is made up of passionate arts advocates with a broad range of experience in arts, design, education, logistics, branding and strategic planning.  This group of volunteers is determined to help shape the vision for arts in Squamish.

 Since 2014, SAC has been focused on transitioning from an ‘operational’ arts organization to one that is more resource based, to: (1) serve as an arm’s length adjudicator and administrator for District of Squamish grant monies for arts groups, (2) contribute to the development and implementation of a broader arts policy for the community, and (3) cultivate more resources, mentorship and support for local arts, culture and heritage groups.

Today, many of these goals are in progress and some in fact have been realized. In 2014, the District of Squamish, with support from SAC, developed a Public Arts Policy to ensure open and fair adjudication of all new projects. SAC also supported the District with the development of a new ‘Squamish Brand Enhancement & Marketing Plan’. This plan included an in-depth case study of Squamish and all its assets. The study revealed the need to enhance arts programming, create more public art and offer more free community arts events.

Responding to the new Brand and Marketing plan, SAC formed a ‘Festival Subcommittee’ tasked with developing and launching a new multi-day event; in July 2014 the inaugural ‘Squamish Wind Festival’ was launched. The Mission of the Wind Festival is to promote Squamish as a world-class destination for wind and water sports through a celebration of the arts, entertainment, education, and competition.

In 2014, Squamish also participated in Vancouver’s Biennale. This public art project brought new works of art to Squamish as well as artists in residency to our community and Quest University.  

In 2014, the Squamish Historical Society launched the first ever Heritage Festival. This multi-day event saw demonstrations and presentations at Quest University on the history of Squamish and First Nation culture. 

Squamish visual artist guild ‘Visuals Society’ is stronger than ever and continues to deliver top quality art shows throughout the year.   The award-winning Between Shifts Theatre Society has demonstrated to us that professional, top quality actors call Squamish their home.

Squamish is filled with talented artists and rich with culture and heritage. The challenge now is how to pull all the different user groups together so we are all supporting the same vision for our community. 

 The SAC Board is currently working on a communication strategy that will kick-start the vision planning conversation with the community. This dialogue will begin at the District level, followed closely by broader conversations with interest groups and individuals across the community. The journey to realizing the vision of the SAC begins with a collective vision shared by our community. The future Squamish Arts Centre must meet the needs of our community. Everything is on the table: studio space, more arts programming, gallery and installation space, resources for restoration, more education and all kinds of services that help visual arts, performance, and heritage. Such a space needs to be self-sustaining, so it must generate revenue from a range of sources including support from both the district and the private sector through sponsorship. 

So what will the future hold for Squamish in the arts? The vision remains a bit fuzzy without the focus that engagement with the community will bring.  However, there are numerous clear signs that we are a community that supports the arts and we are a community that embraces integration and collaboration. This is a solid start.



  1. Garth Mclean says:

    great article !
    Maybe share with your REAL friends