February 1 Public Salon recap

Nearly 500 guests attended the February 1 Public Salon, the largest turnout to date. Niamh Scallan, a freelance journalist, writes about the evening’s speakers. Videos will be posted soon.

Public Salon with Sam Sullivan
By Niamh Scallan

It was a chilly February evening when Vancouverites came together for the first Public Salon of 2011. Before an energy-filled audience of both young and old, nine bright and unique minds took the stage at the Vancouver Playhouse to weave their own personal struggles and triumphs into an embracing, community-focused dialogue.

At 7:30pm, Sam Sullivan took the stage. Before introducing the first of nine speakers, Sullivan spent a few moments reflecting on the loss of two great Vancouverites: renowned historian Chuck Davis, who passed away shortly after the Public Salon in September, and David Peake, a passionate and popular Vancouver-based caterer who passed away in November. Sullivan then laid down the rules of the game: each speaker had seven minutes and no more to chat with the audience about a topic of their choice.

The night began with Nancy McKinstry, a dynamic and successful businesswoman who has served on corporate, university and non-profit boards. CEO of ICBC and Minerva Foundation founder, McKinstry reflected on her long, successful career as a woman in the business world. Speaking of her early struggles in the male-dominated world of business, McKinstry made a strong case for ‘why women should rule the world.’ She shared her personal struggles in forging ahead in a male-dominated realm and noted that little has changed over the years: despite more women graduating from university than men, businesses continue to be managed and run by men.

Instead of focusing her argument on equal opportunity as a human right, McKinstry said that businesses dominated by men underperform in the market. Diversity — employing both women and men — would give companies better strategic advantage in the marketplace, she said. McKinstry noted that women are ambitious, relationship-focused multi-taskers and businesses that embrace more women would see higher productivity and renewed energy. Near the end of her seven minutes, McKinstry called for a ‘new world order,’ a world where women are brought from the periphery of the world market and into powerful businesses’ offices and boardrooms. Only then will we see maximized productivity, she said.

Up next was Leslie Van Duzer, the new director of UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, most recently from the University of Minnesota. A new face in the Vancouver community, Van Duzer provided a fresh perspective on Vancouver’s most recent history of development. She praised the community for initiatives like laneway housing that provide both density and affordability. But, she asked the crowd, what do we want our city to look like? Do we want to follow Mayor Robertson’s goal to become the world’s greenest city by 2020? Or do we want affordable housing to be the main priority?

“We need a plan,” she said — a plan based on qualitative data that helps the community visualize the city of our future.

According to Van Duzer, we need to reframe the dialogue surrounding city development from the reliance on quantitative, statistic-based reports to a more visual, community-based discussion. “We need to put our vision up from and stats in our back pockets,” she said. And this shift in dialogue would bring about clarity, something often lacking in the community planning, she said. To achieve the community’s support, architects and developers must incorporate the public from early planning stages. Wrapping up her seven minutes, an animated Van Duzer drove home the point that, at this critical point in Vancouver development, the citizenry must advocate for an active role in the planning process.

Sapna Dayal, a “recovering” Chartered Accountant and director of Vancouver-based charity imagine1day, taught us a new word: ”Creatribution.” It means connecting communities to the world through passion, creativity and talent. And it’s the concept behind the charitable organization she’s been leading for the past three years, she said. Instead of the traditional charity model where one “gives” to another, Creatribution creates a more sustainable system of “giving and receiving.”

Dayal shared a passionate story about her first volunteer experience in Ethiopia and her concerns with the effects of charity on people in the developing world. Do charities and aid donations perpetuate dependency? Can aid promote sustainable change? Frustrated with the status quo, Dayal explained the birth of imagine1day, a nonprofit organization that connects donors with projects that provide education for children in Ethiopia. According to Dayal, the new concept aims to create a new relationship between donors and recipients. “Creatribution,” she said, allows a donor to seek their passion and talents, and channel that talent into helping poorer people in Ethiopia. She gave the example of an artist who sells their paintings to people their community, and then donates a portion of that money to those in need. It helps people discover how their contribution can also be a business venture, she said. And “Creatribution is writing a new story for Ethiopia,” she said.

Graeme Berglund wanted to talk about love. Artist and co-founder of The Cheaper Show, Berglund shared with the audience a very personal story of his “year of changing” – a search for meaning. Ten years after starting an innovative art show that has since exploded in popularity, Berglund spoke about his need for grounding, a need to reconnect personally and with others in order to further his potential as an artist and a member of the community. And after a year-long search, he said, he’s realized that it’s all about love. “Through love, we can do good things he said.”

In line with speakers before him, Berglund also talked about community and power of a united community. He spoke about the early life of The Cheaper Show in 2001, when he and a group of friends decided that the art scene needed to change. Trying to bring the artist closer to the community, Berglund and others started a one-night art show where every piece of art went for $200. Since then, the Vancouver art scene has been taken from the hands of the elite and into the hands of the people. And with over 1,000 artists and over 1,000 pieces of art involved in the last ten years, the founders feel they’ve made a powerful impact, he said.

Jane Coop, UBC music professor and one of Canada’s most distinguished pianists, shifted the conversation to music and society’s appreciation for music in the twenty-first century. In particular, Coop expressed her concerns about a “problem of distinction between what is frozen on recording and what is live.” To better articulate her concern, Coop conducted an “experimentation of sound.” Sitting at the piano centre stage, Coop filled the Vancouver Playhouse with two beautiful — yet very distinct — renditions of the same piece of classical music.

For Coop, there’s a sense of adventure, a sense of risk that accompanies a live performance that is utterly lost in frozen recordings. She gave the example of a musician’s mood, which can often direct a concert’s tone on the day of the performance. A recording, however, will forever sound the same. She expressed her fear that the power of live music will be lost as generations roll on. “It’s a different effect altogether,” she said. “And how could we ever give that up for an iPod?”

The importance of community involvement ran through Simon Fraser University president Andrew Petter’s time on stage. Recently taking the position as president, Petter spoke of SFU as an engaged university, a university connected with community life and future development. “It’s the end of the Ivory Tower,” he said. Petter spoke of a new way of understanding the role of universities in the community: it’s not just about education, but also about adding value to the community at large through innovation and new ideas. According to Petter, it’s important for communities to use university infrastructure for public change and economic development.

For David Granirer, laughter is therapy. Founder of Stand Up for Mental Health, Granirer took the stage clutching a microphone and a pocketful of gut-busting jokes. With the crowd howling with laughter, Granirer quickly shifted the audience’s mood by sharing a poignant story about his personal struggle growing up with depression. For years, his difficulty with disease kept him from engaging with others. But laughter has helped him tremendously in coming to terms with prevailing attitudes toward mental illness, he said.

And now he’s sharing his “comedy as therapy” idea to break down stereotypes associated with mental illness. By involving people with mental illness in the Stand Up for Mental Health program, he helps people become more comfortable with themselves, their conditions and their community. “It’s about giving these invisible people a voice,” he said.

Dr. Michael Krausz, a psychiatrist and researcher, also spoke to the issue of mental health. In a more sobering tone, Dr. Krausz took the audience through his journey in understanding how mental health should be treated. Speaking about the struggle between coerced care and compassion-based care, the medical director of the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health touched on his experience with the Dalai Lama in Vancouver last year. Dr. Krausz talked about the Dalai Lama’s message of love, forgiveness and compassion and argued that such a message should guide mental health care here in Vancouver.

Dr. Krausz spoke about his research in Vancouver’s downtown eastside and the challenges in providing mental health care to the community. According to Dr. Krausz, there are nearly 3,000 untreated mental health patients in that community. Perhaps more disturbing nearly 50 per cent of mental health patients have been treated against their will. Dr. Krausz urged the audience to think about compassion, rather than coercion, as a guide for mental health care. “Swim against the tide… think about compassion,” he said. Dr. Krausz used the words of Janis Joplin to conclude his thoughts: “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”

For music and yoga entrepreneur Terry McBride, imagination is everything. As the final speaker of the evening, the CEO of Nettwerk Music Group and founder of popular yoga studio chain, McBride encouraged the crowd to let their imaginations run wild. “If you know what it looks like, you can create,” he said, recounting his experience imagining the yoga studio of his dreams and bringing it to reality. A vivacious McBride talked about the power of inspiration and passion as the key to pursuing a vision and he encouraged the audience to think about their passions and to turn that into reality: “if you can believe in it, you can make it real.”

The next event — David Owen and the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture on ”Manhattan: The Greenest City in the World?” — is set for March 17 at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Niamh Scallan is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist. She has most recently written for the Globe and Mail, thetyee.ca, and the North Shore News. Niamh is pursuing her Master of Journalism degree at the University of British Columbia, where she specializes in urban issues and community planning.

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