When you live and work in a city like New Westminster, the whole idea of a “year in the arts” retrospective brings a particular challenge.
How on earth can I look back on 12 full calendar months and manage to encapsulate, in one short piece, just what the year has meant to so many people? How can I capture the full range and diversity of the talent, dedication and passion that exists in so many people in this city of ours?
The short answer is: I can’t.
Not really. But I can take time out to acknowledge some of the people and groups who helped to shape the city’s arts, entertainment and cultural scene in 2018.
This year, I’ve decided to pay homage to 10 of those people (and groups). These aren’t by any means the only 10; my longlist would have filled a couple of editions’ worth of newsprint. But they are 10 outstanding examples – from a variety of artistic backgrounds, of a variety of ages and cultures and walks of life, representing a sampling of all the diverse talent in our fair city – of folks who stepped up and made a difference over the past year.
In no particular order, here they are. To these folks, and to all of you out there making a difference to arts and culture in the city, I wish the blessings of the season and all the best for a creative and fulfilling year ahead.
1. Stephen O’Shea and Leanne Ewen
I have to start off the list with this dynamic duo, the executive director and president of the Arts Council of New Westminster, respectively. The two made headlines just recently for their wins in the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce’s annual Platinum Awards, as O’Shea became the Citizen of the Year and Ewen took home the Bernie Legge Award for arts and culture. Together, the two have become an unstoppable force for growth in the arts and culture in New Westminster – as, under their leadership, the arts council is branching out in all kinds of directions and working with artists and partner groups all over the city. Want to make something happen in arts and culture? Call Stephen and Leanne.
2. Cassius Khan and Amika Kushwaha
Here’s another dynamic duo who just can’t be stopped when it comes to making a difference in the community: the husband-and-wife team behind the Mushtari Begum Festival of Indian Classical Music and Dance. The festival returned to Massey Theatre for its seventh incarnation in the fall, bringing the internationally acclaimed sitarist Pandit Harvinder Sharma (“pandit” is a title meaning “master”) all the way from India to perform. Khan and Kushwaha are world-class performers in their own right, and their talents are only exceeded by their devotion to sharing their love of their art form, to mentoring and encouraging the next generation of performers, and to sharing Indian classical music with folks of all cultural backgrounds. To Cassius and Amika, my thanks: New West is so blessed to have you here.
3. Steve Clements, Frances Monteleone, Kelly Proznick and Lindsay Waldner
I’ll wager that at least one of these four – and probably all four of them – just read their name in this list and said, “But it’s not about us, it’s about the kids!” Which is exactly why this fabulous foursome deserves the spotlight. The four teachers are the driving force behind the innovative musical theatre program at New Westminster Secondary School that gives students of all ages a chance to learn every aspect of musical theatre production – and stage a full-scale musical (this past year’s was Crazy For You). For being the kind of teachers who inspire students and change lives on a daily basis, I offer my deepest thanks – and a plea to please stay at NWSS long enough for my little person to get there and enjoy your teaching!
4. Susan Greig
Some might have seen just an old industrial building in a less-than-attractive part of town. Greig saw potential – and art. The hard-working Greig has been running her studio and event space at 100 Braid Street Studios since 2014, and just this past year she expanded to the upper floor of the building (the former home of the B.C. Distillery and Winery). The move makes her studio the biggest artists’ studio in the region outside of Vancouver, providing a home for about 46 working artists. Besides running a host of events out of her studios – including paint-and-sip nights and a variety of classes and workshops – Greig also lends her support to a host of other artists and arts groups in the city. For helping to make New Westminster not just a home for the arts, but a destination, my thanks.
5. Jessica Schneider
She’s been executive director of the Massey Theatre since 2006, and she’s been a driving force on the city’s arts scene ever since. Schneider also took on the post of president of the board of the B.C. Alliance for Arts and Culture in 2018 and lent her expertise to the development of the City of New Westminster’s new arts strategy, while at the same time working to broaden the reach of both the Massey Theatre and the Anvil Centre Theatre. With new programming at both city theatre’s coming to life over the past year – the new Massey Unlimited programs, for one, and the Anvil Centre’s inaugural Winter Celebrations for another – Schneider and her team just keep on working to keep the city’s arts scene an ever-more-vibrant and inclusive one. Kudos to all of you; New Westminster wouldn’t be what it is without you.
6. Gordon Duggan and Sarah Joyce
If you’re one of the ever-growing number of people who keep going back to the New Westminster New Media Gallery, then you’ve run into at least one of this husband-and-wife team. Duggan and Joyce are the director-curators of the gallery and, under their leadership, it has become one of the most-visited and most-talked-about galleries in the region. Visitors to the gallery have had a chance to have their portrait drawn by robots, don virtual reality headsets to walk through a future world, and stare into the depths of infinity – all on the third floor of the Anvil Centre. Plus, the gallery offers educational programs introducing technology and arts to everyone from the smallest kids on up. If you haven’t stopped in to say hello, you should.
7. Quayside Voices
The five members of this a cappella quintet don’t make music for a living, but they do manage to make music a huge part of their lives – and of everyone else’s lives while they’re at it. This talented group of New Westminster singers continues to make itself felt on the local music scene, performing at a variety of community and regional events and offering up its own concerts (including a joint show with Victoria’s Fifth Street in the fall and their first-ever stand-alone Christmas concert this December). But their biggest coup was undoubtedly their efforts to land a visit from Swedish a cappella superstars The Real Group – which paid off in the announcement that the legendary group is coming to New Westminster for a concert in February. For continuing to be the little choir that could, my biggest thanks.
8. Devon More
It was just a little more than two years ago when Devon More brought her one-woman Fringe show, Berlin Waltz, to the back room at the Heritage Grill. Since then, More has gone on to bring a wealth of original, quirky, thought-provoking and entertaining theatre to New Westminster with Way Off-Broadway Wednesdays. Whether it’s a contemporary reinvisioning of Susanna Moodie’s Canadian epic, Roughing It In the Bush, or giving audiences a chance to help bring a new play to life with the Script Tease reading series, the Way Off-Broadway Wednesdays series continues to bring unique theatrical offerings to us right here in downtown New Westminster. Kudos to Devon for bringing the Fringe to the forefront.
9. Molly Marineau
Marineau hit the headlines in January as the city’s first ever Solid Waste and Recycling Artist in Residence, working out of both the Anvil Centre and the city’s works yard to turn recycled materials into art. She may perhaps be most recognizable to New West residents for her Collective City Poetry sculpture at Anvil Centre, where visitors helped to turn “found” words (cut out of a variety of recycled materials and mounted on wooden blocks) into an ever-changing display of poetry. Her art served to help raise questions about waste and consumerism, but, more importantly, to engage and involve people of all ages. To Marineau for kicking off the artist-in-residence project, and to the city for starting up the program in the first place, my thanks.
10. Alex Sangha
Alex Sangha is the one person on this list who, given his choice, would have preferred not to be there. Sangha became a film producer in perhaps the worst possible circumstances: after the death of his friend, January Lapuz, who was killed in New Westminster in a brutal attack in 2012. Sangha found filmmakers Lenee Son and Elina Gress at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and together they embarked on the creation of a short documentary film to honour the life and legacy of January. The film, which explores the challenges faced by trans women of colour, has gone on to win multiple awards and has been chosen for multiple film festivals – all thanks to the passionate efforts of Sangha to pay tribute to his lost friend. For his tireless efforts to make sure that January is remembered as more than just a statistic, Sangha earns the final spot on this list.