Public Salon Recap

On February 1, I had the pleasure of attending Sam Sullivan ’s Public Salon. Sullivan has served as Vancouver Mayor and has founded six non-profit organizations – you can find out more on his website.

The event was presented by Global Civic Policy Society and sponsored by Scotiabank and Green College UBC. The concept is this: community leaders from the Vancouver area discuss an issue they are passionate about in seven minutes.

Sharing one’s passion in life in a timeframe that brief is no easy feat.

Before I begin - a little context. The salon held its first talk in November of 2009. Designed to bring politicians, academics and citizens together to discuss a variety of issues, it has grown in scope tremendously. Upon learning of this initiative, I couldn’t help but wonder if the name references the French salons that flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those were some of the first instances where people could come together in public and debate ideas freely, “to please and to educate”. Traditionally, the talks at salons were hosted within like-minded collectives, but I was pleased to see the key element that brought the crowd together at Public Salon was simple interest in public affairs. Of course, what’s public is private, and vice versa. I keep up with the world around me by reading local news, and my opinions on public issues are many, but I admit my involvement in public debate is minimal. I was intrigued with the premise of Public Salon. Below is a highlight of some of the projects and ideas the speakers discussed.

The Panel
The first speaker was Nancy McKinstry, CEO of ICBC and Minerva Foundation founder. She addressed the underrepresentation of women in the financial sector. She explained that women’s decision-making processes differ in many ways from men’s, and encouraged the audience to appreciate the strengths women could bring and the positive influence they could have on the financial sector, if offered better representation.

Leslie Van Duzer, Director of the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at UBC, discussed our experience of the city in relation to public planning. She believed that issues such as global warming and growing populations ought to be regarded as an opportunity for innovation – she stressed that the key with urban planning is to put the vision first, and to let the logistics come second. She encouraged Vancouverites to act upon their visions for the city – whether it be to become the greenest city in the world by 2020 (a goal proposed by Mayor Greg Robertson) or to become more people-friendly, the key is to pick a vision and being proactive in improving our quality of life.

Sapna Dayal spoke next, founder of imagine1day - after a trip to Ethiopia, she knew she wanted to dedicate herself to helping to improve their quality of life. “But with so many charities out there, I knew I had to do something different,” she explained. She encouraged the audience to reassess the role of charities – they don’t have to ask people to give by losing something. ”Envision charities as mutually beneficial,” she said. She explained that she wanted to encourage people to give by doing something they are deeply passionate about – in giving, they are contribute to their own personal growth. The proceeds from their projects would fund imagine1day’s initiatives. Her term for this? Creatribution.

Graeme Berglund spoke about his project, The Cheaper Show, a one-night art show that takes place in Vancouver and Toronto. It brings together a selection of talented Canadian artists and sells all pieces at $200. Berglund explained that many talented artists have few avenues to exhibit their work. If their style doesn’t match what local galleries are looking for, they struggle to make a name for themselves. Founded in 2007, the show’s popularity has grown at incredible speed – last year’s attendance came to 7000 people, with a lineup spanning several blocks. Berglund said the affordable price-point make art accessible, and with international as well as Canadian artists, the art community is brought closer together. TCS is currently recruiting volunteers for its upcoming show in June – you can apply here.

SFU president Andrew Petter was also amongst the panel – he discussed his vision for SFU’s high level of engagement with the local community. Read his interview with BC Business here. Other speakers included pianist Jane Coop, David Granirer, founder of Stand Up for Mental Health, Michael Krausz, UBC Providence Leadership for Addiction Research, and Terry McBride, founder of YYoga.

The evening’s discussions weaved together the public aspects of modern life with the deeply private. From Berglund’s insights on his personal journey before founding TCS, to Van Duzer’s thoughts on the future of public space, to focusing my thoughts on the experience of music, there was a wonderful unpredictability throughout the evening for the ideas I’d be asked to consider next.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this event was that it directed my thoughts to such a wide variety of topics, all of them important to my own personal life. Public dialogue is an element I miss within Vancouver society – at least of the face to face variety. This initiative seems to be fluid and receptive of the issues society holds in esteem: all the topics that were addressed deserve attention and thought. I strongly encourage anyone looking for ways to engage with the people shaping our city’s community to to attend these  salons in the future. These salons  are only over a year old – I am excited for openness and community these talks are encouraging within Vancouver and Canadian society in general.

The next talk is scheduled for March 17. The topic is “Manhattan: The Greenest City in the World?”

If you attended this month’s Public Salon or would like to share information on similar events, please leave a comment below.

By Sonya Reznitsky