Vancouver Street Beats: Community-based arts practice as catalyst for social change?

Authors: Juliet Carpenter*, Oxford Brookes University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: participatory arts, social justice, urban inequality, arts for social change
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Creative practice in the city has long been associated with processes of neighbourhood gentrification and displacement, with critics demonstrating how art and culture are harnessed by dominant players to serve political and economic interests (Ley, 2003; McLean 2014). This paper aims to explore the possibilities, as well as the challenges, of creative practice in the city, examining the case of arts practice as a collaborative tool for addressing issues of social justice. Situated within a theoretical frame of ‘art for social change’ (Marcuse, 2011), the paper examines the democratic role that art and culture can play in contributing to issues of social sustainability and social justice in the city, through collaborative creative expression. The paper draws on the case of Vancouver, Canada, where flows of global capital coupled with a lack of public investment have contributed to a severe housing affordability crisis in the city, and growing socio-economic inequalities, particularly evident in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, an area with high levels of poverty and vulnerability. The paper explores the case of the Street Beats Band, a community-based music project that engaged with the binner community in the Downtown Eastside, as a means of catalyzing artistic practice to contribute to social change. Through interviews with the actors in the project (participants, musicians, non-profits engaged with the project and the local authority funder), the research explores the impacts of arts-based processes, as well as exposing their limitations, and assesses the potential for contributing to social change through participatory arts-based practice.

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