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The power of place: teachings from Fogo Island

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland is rewriting its own economic story, turning despair into hope by leveraging their unique cultural and artistic talents, and systematically 'putting another leg' on their island economy.

Their recovery is a leading example of creative economic development, and an inspiration as we work to build an inclusive Creative Economy here on the Vancouver Island. We can learn a lot from how they value and measure the contributions of artists and the impact of arts and culture.

A generation ago, Fogo Island's well-managed, 400 year old cod fishery was demolished virtually overnight by global overfishing. Today, thanks to the vision and tenacity of Zita Cobb and 20 years of hard work by the community-owned Shorefast Foundation, this little island is a thriving ecosystem of cultural businesses and cultural tourism.

Full disclosure: I'm a Zita Cobb superfan. Her way of looking at the world really resonates with me. In my spare time I invent job titles for her: place economist, asset disruptor, entrepreneur ecologist.

Zita understands the connections between place, nature, culture and business - especially for people who live in 'powerful geographies' such as islands. Her superpower is leveraging these relationships for community good.

This is my all-time favourite Zita soundbite:

“If you have a really tough problem to solve, bring on the artists. They’re like reverse magicians: magicians make things disappear, artists make things appear. They point to things we don’t ordinarily see.”

Shorefast is also leading the country in measuring the impacts of investing in and building out their unique Creative Economy. Their Economic Nutrition labels are compelling, visual examples of how they are using data to tell their impact story. The labels show the financial information behind any product or service, empowering consumers to understand how it sustains the economic health of Fogo Island communities.

Here on Vancouver Island, we are just beginning to gather the rich, multi-faceted data we need to jumpstart our unique Creative Economy. But, thanks to Fogo Island's 20 years of lessons learned, I have no doubt our trajectory can be realized in a much shorter timeframe.


Check out my favourite Zita talk (below), as well as Newfoundland artist Pam Hall's Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge which includes a chapter about Fogo Island. The ELK is another compelling, visual example of using data to tell stories about the importance and impact of arts and culture. You cal also listen to Pam talk about the ELK in this Rural Routes podcast episode.


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