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Local Initiatives Program administered by CAG

Al McWilliams

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Local Initiatives Program: Process, Impact and Vision

My experience with CAG (then known as the Artist’s Gallery) and the Local Initiatives Program (LIP) was, if I recall, around 1976. The process was quite straightforward. There was a call for proposals where artists would submit examples of their work, which were then adjudicated by a panel comprised of members of the visual arts and cultural communities. The selected artists were then paid $100 a week for six months for an exchange of the equivalent in artwork. These artworks then entered the City of Vancouver’s art collection, which was displayed in federal, provincial and city-owned buildings—a precursor to the Canada Council Art Bank. There was not much of an art market in Vancouver, so this was brilliant. It was very direct: you made your work, the City took it and paid you for it. I don’t think many of us really thought that there was going to be much money in what we did, though in conversation we did aspire to make a living from our work, so this support fuelled a kind of optimism.

As a younger artist, you often work on something for a while before it’s disrupted for one reason or another, which then requires having to scurry around to find employment or another studio or… so your development is slowed. I was also the parent of a small child, so there were those economic forces at play as well. What the LIP did was mitigate some financial burdens and give a period of uninterrupted time that enabled me to move along at a more focused pace and develop my concerns more fully. Though I can only speak to my experience, I’m quite sure my words would be echoed by other artists who participated in the program.

I have to commend the City’s enlightened Social Planning Department for working with an equally enlightened federal Manpower and Immigration Department in developing a number of far-reaching cultural programs during the ’70s that still reverberate today. It was our city recognizing the importance of a diversity of cultural activities and acknowledging that for a healthy civitas these activities require engagement and support. This was also a moment when the federal government and the City were involved in the development of cooperative housing, leaseholds, Granville Island, etc. We again face employment and housing issues, cultural neglect, etc., but the circumstances now are more dire. Perhaps the current situation signals that it’s time to revisit and renew this kind of cooperation and encouragement.

Al McWilliams

Al McWilliams is an artist living and working in the unceded territory of Vancouver. He has exhibited in both solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan, and Korea. His work is in most public collections in Canada including the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Along with his private studio practice, McWilliams has been involved in a number of public art commissions, completing projects in Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, Ottawa, and Japan.