BY ELIZABETH NOLAN
Special to the Driftwood
Salt Spring’s community arts council has a better idea of how to direct its energies and resources in the future thanks to islanders who shared their input in a survey exercise this fall.
The council’s strategic planning committee recently shared the results of the public survey Salt Spring Arts held during October, along with conducting direct interviews with 15 community stakeholders. Executive director Yael Wand wants the community to know their messages have been received.
“We’ve heard you. We got incredible feedback from people, and this is going to directly feed into how we develop our priorities in the coming years,” Wand said, adding, “We want to ensure we’re utilizing our limited resources in the best way possible to serve this community through the arts.”
Results suggest Salt Spring Arts is doing many things well, but some improvements will be healthy for the organization’s future and sustainability. Strategic goals will likely involve attracting a younger demographic; continuing with family events and programs; producing more events that involve the entire community; and addressing inclusion, diversity and BIPOC issues.
“People are hungry for more diverse cultural offerings and access to diverse artists,” Wand observed.
Among the things people feel Salt Spring Arts does well, a majority of respondents agreed that it’s supporting local artists (their top choice) and producing relevant or engaging exhibitions. When asked what they most valued about the organization, respondents offered statements such as, “It has heart and soul about what is precious about Salt Spring,” and it “embodies all that is great about arts on the island.”
Board vice-chair Deborah Osborne, who also co-chairs the strategic planning committee, said many respondents were excited about the public-facing events that Salt Spring Arts presented or partnered in over the past year, such as the Summer Outdoor Concert Series, the Murals on Salt Spring Project and the On the Rise climate action festival.
“They wished for more activities like those, and would love to see more public art, sculpture, dance, music, literary events and theatre,” Osborne noted.
Artcraft continues to be a beloved program: it is the number one way people engage with the arts council and the program respondents felt had most value. Participants likewise believe it’s important that Salt Spring Arts is a non-profit entity, and they support the arts council having its base of operations at Mahon Hall as a cultural hub and historic treasure.
In terms of things to work on going forward, respondents felt the arts council somewhat addresses the needs of children, youth and emerging artists at present, but they would like to see a bit more focus on these groups and also on diverse art forms in addition to the visual arts. Programs centred on digital, multi-media, film technologies, animation and interactive art might help engage this group.
Another concern the strategic planning committee highlighted is that “a handful of survey participants did not know about all the events, programs and activities Salt Spring Arts created, produced, or was involved in with other organizations — or indeed, what exactly Salt Spring Arts is all about.” Shining more light on the organization’s many initiatives will therefore be another goal going forward.
In addition to the valuable information collected from those who did respond, the gaps in participation also provide important data. The arts council now has a good idea of who is not being reached by its communications, and where more effort needs to be directed.
Many of the respondents were Salt Spring Arts members, indicating people who are already interested in the arts wanted to have a say. As well, respondent demographics largely reflect the island’s median age of 56, with 49 per cent in the 65+ age group. Fewer than seven per cent of survey participants were younger than 40 — reinforcing the notion that more should be done to reach and engage these groups in the future.
The arts council board and staff are now getting ready to take the research findings, alongside other sectoral and community data, and use them to develop strategic priorities and more great community arts programs in 2023 and beyond.
“People took so much time and care to answer the questions. It’s really evident and we’re so appreciative of that,” Wand said. “The responses really demonstrated how much people value the arts and artists in this community.”