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Telling bigger stories: art + data reclamation

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

The big idea behind creative economic development is that when artists thrive, we all thrive. A 'art-first' approach puts us on the right path to diversify and decolonize economic development.

“[We have the] opportunity to discover what is possible when the distinctions between governance, law and arts are removed, and the processes of creative production and intellectual exchange are transformed by not only changing who participates, but also the questions we pose, how we approach finding solutions and the metrics we use to evaluate success.” - Carey Newman, inaugural Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices, University of Victoria

Other parts of the world, especially Europe, are ahead of us in recognizing the central role an inclusive Creative Economy plays in economic and social well-being.

We can catch up pretty quickly, especially because we're a small, nimble island ecosystem teeming with culture and artists, and a top global tourist destination. For starters we think it's time to erase the siloes between arts, tourism and economic development, and craft a super-regional Creative Economic Development Strategy. This fall we are applying for grants to kick of this strategic development framework.

The only speed bump to tapping into our super-region's full potential is that the typical ways of measuring our sector don't tell a big enough story of what we are capable of achieving here. Our first-ever All-Islands Arts Impact Study in 2021 gave impressive, preliminary numbers on GDP and jobs. But these standard metrics only tell a fraction of the story.

Better metrics and indicators will build awareness of our incredible potential and impact, and support better policies and investments. We're hopeful the New Frontiers in Research Special Call data reclamation project we are now co-leading with Simon Fraser University will help get us there. See project excerpt below.

This NFRF grant brings together some of Canada's academic rockstars in the fields of human-computer interaction and data visualization, including SFU's Sheelagh Carpendale, and UVic's Charles Perin, and Sowmya Somanath (check out her Creative Experiences Lab).

Data reclamation means coming up with human-centric ways to tell the story of the value of creativity in our lives and community economies. This process aims to remind us that we have a rich heritage as data stewards.

Technology plays a cool role in this project - our team aims to explore human-centred tools to make data gathering less tedious more pleasurable.

The other cool thing about this project is we are relying artists to guide us on this journey. If you've read my post about Zita Cobb you'll know why artists are the best problem solvers!

Want to learn more? Email us.


The pandemic has exacerbated both persistent inequities and latent capacities, which are apparent in local community data. Working with and for local communities to help them uncover and collect data relevant to themselves and their communities and through community co-design, we will invent and develop interactive data tools that help make their data more understandable and useful.
The October 2021 community-based data on the economic contributions of the creative sector in the Vancouver Island/ Gulf Islands super-region reveals the arts sector as a highly under-utilized asset holding great potential, yet lacks adequate support and integration. Our intended impact is to affect policy, influencing economic activities towards a more sustainable future immediately in Vancouver Island and, by modelling this potential, eventually across Canada, and through our collaborators elsewhere in the world.
With effective tools to track and demonstrate the societal and economic benefits of the local community based arts, decision makers will be able to develop evidence-informed policy that supports and grows the community arts here and across the country. In particular Indigenous, youth and LGBTQ communities, are remarkably under-resourced and under-supported, and the arts sector functions on an unsustainably high-level of reliance on volunteers. Lack of economic policies based on real, community-based data undermines the ability to effectively support sustainable community livelihoods and well-being.


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