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Arts council eyes an exciting future in New West

You don't have to spend long talking to Stephen O'Shea and Leanne Ewen to catch their enthusiasm.
ARts council of New Westminster
New vision: The arts council board includes, from left, Antigone Dixon-Warren, Trevor Hargreaves, Janice Bannister, Mike Toscano, Beth Snow, executive director Stephen O'Shea, Marianne Janzen, Pamela Findling, Erin Jeffery, Stefanie Swinnard and Leanne Ewen.

You don't have to spend long talking to Stephen O'Shea and Leanne Ewen to catch their enthusiasm.

They're at the helm of the Arts Council of New Westminster - as its new executive director and board president, respectively -  and they're planning to make 2015 a year of growth and change for the long-established organization.

O'Shea has been on the job for a month, spending that time getting to know as many people and groups on the city's arts scene as possible.

"It's been spectacular. It's been a lot of fun," he says with a smile. "I've really felt welcomed by the community despite my newness to this community."

O'Shea, a recent transplant to the city from Abbotsford, loves the fact that New Westminster is so steeped in tradition.

"This is a city that values its tradition and its sense of history, and its place in history," he says. "That's what drew me here. I knew this would be a strong community."

At the same time, he's excited by the change and development in the city as downtown begins to thrive, new businesses open, and new faces and groups appear on the city's arts scene.

Both O'Shea and Ewen value the chance to work with both of those sides of the city - the established New Westminster residents and groups, and the newcomers to town.

 "My vision of the arts council is, we bring together the community through the arts," Ewen says. "It's time in our city for this to happen, it's time in our human history for the arts to come back, because they bring joy."

O'Shea is quick to acknowledge the existing work of the arts council over its 48-year history, including 28 years led by recently retired executive director Andrée St. Martin.

That work has laid the foundation for the arts council's next task: to embark on a strategic planning process for the council, setting out its vision for the next three to five years and detailing how that vision will be accomplished.

"It is at times a daunting task, but there's a lot of good people that make it easier," O'Shea says.

Ewen notes that the new arts council board brings to the table a diverse range of skills from both the arts and business.

Newly named board members include Janice Bannister, with a background in comedy and community projects; Pamela Findling, a communications specialist and writer; Stefanie Swinnard, an actor and early childhood movement and music educator; Trevor Hargreaves, a musician, actor and communications consultant; and Erin Jeffery, special events manager at River Market.

The key, Ewen says, is for the group to build a "living document" in its strategic plan that will help set the foundation for future growth.

"It's the long-term vision that I think we need, because you can't build it all in one year," she points out.

The board already has some specific ideas in mind as it looks forward to its 50th anniversary in 2017 - one of O'Shea's personal dreams, for instance, is to see a concert series in Westminster Pier Park.

But the key will be to work with all of the existing artists and arts groups in the community to help each and every one of them thrive.

"I think we have all these pockets of really amazing things happening," Ewen says, noting the arts council's work is to help the city's artists in their efforts. "We're the foundation, and they're the sparkle."

See to follow what the arts council is up to.

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