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Broader arts initiatives may have mitigated risk of riot, says group

Better police preparation? Cracking down on booze sales?

As revelations from Vancouver's riot review pour out, one local arts organization says the best defense in riot prevention may have been an army of brass instruments.

Vancouver's Open Air Orchestra Society, a non-profit organization led by the musical group Carnival Band, submitted a letter to City Council last week about the role artists can play in a public celebration. The letter, authored and signed by 14 different arts organizations, was in part inspired by the June Stanley Cup riot.

In the letter, vice president of the society Brandon Walker talks about the power of art and music in public demonstrations and the unity it can bring among the participants. He added that those bent on destruction during the riot may have been distracted with their purpose had there been more music, entertainment and "more shiny things to look at."

Walker says the Stanley Cup final should have been a large group of people coming together to celebrate and have a good time.

"Giving people better ways to party is a big part of what we're suggesting," says Walker. "I think the danger is that when you don't have an artistic presence holding to the community-minded sense that this is our city, we care about it, we care about each other, it's easy for people to fall in and be influenced by the hooligans."

In the letter, Walker presents three main ideas to support Vancouver's creative artists and the potential for avoiding violence in a public celebration.

  • 1. Reduce or remove limitations on busking and public performances.
  • 2. Encourage local performance groups to participate in all public events.
  • 3. Provide public support and rehearsal space to developing artists and arts leaders.

Since the letter was submitted to council on August 23, Walker says that the most exciting development has been the solidarity among the artistic community.

He has also heard back from a city councilor in support of the letter's message and a desire to move ahead with his ideas.

At this stage however, Walker is unsure of how his proposals will be executed by council. He hopes the letter will be the catalyst for some change in Vancouver's artistic community.

Cody Gregory is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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