Heart of the City: Music of Community Change in Vancouver, British Columbia’s Downtown Eastside
This presentation focuses on music making in Vancouver, British Columbia’s Downtown Eastside (henceforth the DTES), one of Canada’s poorest inner city neighbourhoods. I focus on selected formal music programs, musical theatre productions and protests in the DTES since 1980, where making music has been a conflicted reaction against poverty issues, and subcultures and expressions that reinforce problems of poverty. The music programs have involved genres including opera, classic rock, country rock, folk, Northwest Coast First Nations traditional song and Native American powwow music. My story of the “heart” of Vancouver is one of activism or social control. Musical sound and the complex types of representation possible through musical expression became ways to keep alive or shift the perceptions, possibilities, experiences and constitution of the community and its participants. The interpellators in this “activist” process have been arts administrators; agents of municipal, provincial and federal governments; employees of local social service organizations; health and clinic workers; and community members themselves. Almost all music performances, and music making by community members, have been funded and coordinated through “urban improvement initiatives” of diverse sorts. DTES musical expressions have attempted to address inner city issues such as: homelessness, survival sex, gendered violence, and addictions and related disease. In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, trying to shift community dynamics through musical sound and representation turned out to be an enormously complex undertaking that lay bare sites of external and internal community control concerning, for example: ways of resisting, nurturing, negotiating, evading and drastically changing the DTES community fabric. Another site of tension involved the trajectories of change most important to arts administrators and community participants. These processes entangled complex responses to an extreme hunger among the urban poor for musical and artistic expression, education, and particular musical forms and functions.
Keywords: Music, Community, Social Activism, Urban Development, Aboriginal, Inner City
Klisala R. Harrison
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Music, York University