ALPINE NIRVANA… Imagine a stunningly beautiful, 100 km+ stretch of fjord-like lake, soaring peaks, majestic forests, raging rivers, and bountiful wildlife. At one end anchored by Canada’s small town cultural capital. At the other by a hamlet called the most beautiful village in British Columbia.
Imagine this stunning, unspoiled mountain valley, connected by a fibre-enabled, high-speed network. Populated by an astonishing collection of talented, creative people, drawn to this modern-day Shangri-la from every corner of the globe. Hosting big thinkers — and doers — brought together to tackle the challenges and opportunities that face residents of remote, mountainous regions like the Columbia Basin.
Welcome to the Kootenay Centre for Applied Creativity. Welcome to the Kootenay Creative Corridor.
GENESIS OF AN IDEA
WHEN THE Kaslo Institute won the bid to host the 2014 Biennial BC Rural Summit, there were doubters. Kaslo was, after all, only a fifth the size of the previously smallest Summit host community. It might be too isolated, too hard to get to. And what about capacity? Did such a tiny, out-of-the-way community have the human and infrastructural strength to handle such a significant event?
The clear answer, it turns out, was yes.
The event was a rousing success. In its aftermath we made several observations, including:
All of which led us to ask a simple question: why not establish a world-class, alpine-centric “think-and-do tank,”with its HQ in Kaslo? An institution dedicated to addressing the problems and possibilities facing Columbia Basin communities, and their counterparts in other mountain regions of BC, Canada, and the world? An institution that would bring together leading artists, scientists, academics, artisans, politicians, inventors, athletes, businesspeople, non-profit leaders, and interested citizens, year-around, all focused on matters of relevance to mountain communities?
Why not, indeed. From the very start we had a bias — we believed high speed rural bandwidth could spell the difference between viability and ruin for many a small, remote community. So we tackled this topic, big time, at the 2014 Rural Summit. That’s why we invited Academy Award-winning animator John Kahrs to join us. We asked him to talk about whether a place like Kaslo, a region like the West Kootenay, could lure top talent in his industry away from Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Mumbai. His answer? Absolutely — “as long as you have bandwidth & an excuse to come.” Happily Kaslo was on the cusp of a fibre network rollout. Good news. We knew this would enable us to connect with key strategic partners elsewhere in the Basin.
So out of the Summit emerged a vision for something we called the Kootenay Centre for Applied Creativity, a non-profit based in Kaslo, connected via programming and high speed connectivity with partnering organizations elsewhere in the Basin.
The KOOTENAY CENTRE for APPLIED CREATIVITY
In the wake of our experience hosting the 2014 Rural Summit, we knew we needed to create something more than simply a secretariat that would host a conference every now and then. We felt what was needed was an institution that carries out programming throughout the year. An institution capable of hosting live events and sessions in Kaslo, and facilitating events elsewhere in the region and Basin. An institution capable of allowing participation in its programs anywhere in the world via a robust web presence, with strong publishing (print & electronic) and media capability.
We envisaged a Centre that would hold summits, workshops, retreats, seminars, conferences, and events throughout the year, providing a significant boost to a local economy badly in need of additional stimulus. The Centre would attract visitors year-around, create much-needed jobs, spin off potential solutions for challenges we and other Basin communities face, and provide support for local businesses, organizations, and individuals.
We referred to the Banff Centre as an example of what we had in mind. While the Banff Centre, with its 80+ years of existence and current $60 million per year operating budget is an order of magnitude larger than what we intend, it nonetheless shows that an institution dedicated to a creative sharing of ideas and experiences can both stimulate solutions to existing societal challenges, and become a significant regional economic driver.
Coincidentally, as our thoughts began to gel, Columbia Basin Trust launched its Our Trust, Our Future campaign, soliciting proposals for “big” projects with Basin-wide impact that CBT, looking at a large increase in its annual revenues, might help fund in future. It struck us that the Kootenay Centre for Applied Creativity was such a project, so we submitted a proposal.
At the close of the Our Trust Our Future initiative, we learned that CBT had received over 120 proposals — and that ours had received the most positive feedback of them all, providing a substantial confirmation that our proposed Centre had widespread appeal.
In the meantime we had begun the process of discussing our ideas with potential strategic partners both in our immediate region and elsewhere in the Basin. The general idea was to share Centre programming, holding live sessions and events in multiple Basin locales under the Centre ‘s aegis, while connecting these locales via a high speed internet link (for the latter we coined the term, the Columbia Basin Grid for Development, adding a practical layer of content and apps onto Columbia Basin Broadband’s proposed broadband infrastructure).
The combination of our realization that if we held off on programming until the build-out of a Kaslo campus it might be too late to help rejuvenate the local economy, and talks in particular with Nelson-based organizations, led us to the conclusion we both could and should fast-track the project if at all possible.
Enter the Kootenay Creative Corridor.
The KOOTENAY CREATIVE CORRIDOR
The more we thought about it, the more sense it made.
The logic of expanding the Centre concept to embrace the entire region, anchored by Nelson to the south, named Canada’s leading cultural small town, and to the north by Kaslo, home of an astonishing array of artists, musicians, authors, academics, and cultural organizations — each of them the economic and service centre for their respective areas — was clear.
We confirmed that it was feasible to establish a broadband link between our Kaslo facilities and their Nelson counterpart(s), making possible live interactive simulcasting of events held in either town (and others connected to the Basin Grid for Development), in HD.
The strategic advantages of this approach are several, including:
It enables us to launch programming well in advance of an eventual Kaslo campus build-out, with smaller gatherings held in Kaslo & possibly Ainsworth, with larger events in Nelson;
It will help revitalize the economies of Kaslo and North Kootenay Lake, and provide immediate support for existing cultural & educational organizations;
It will support and bolster the efforts of Columbia Basin Broadband;
It will greatly enhance efforts to market our region to potential visitors, investors, and new residents;
It will help revitalize Kaslo’s downtown core, and support efforts to establish a Nelson conference centre;
It will create a regionally-based creative nexus, providing ongoing inspiration and support for stakeholders throughout the Basin.
We have begun to look for existing Kaslo area properties that might serve as a Centre HQ. We have started to reach out to potential strategic partners, in our own region and further afield in the Basin. At the same time we have started to explore possible early programming options. Examples include:
High Literature: the power of words in shaping modern mountain cultures;
Cool, Clear, Water: what are sustainable approaches to water research and management in the face of persistent climate change?;
High Energy: new strategies for transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy, with a focus on the implications for rural residents;
Small Is Beautiful: the value of magnificent, remote places in an increasingly urbanized world;
Paving Paradise?: what happens when city dwellers move to remote, lightly populated regions? — lessons from the Inter-Mountain West;
Power to the People: the lack of political clout in rural regions and what to do about it;
When You Wish Upon a Star: digital animation as a new economic driver in remote, connected mountain regions;
Connected Kootenays: rural bandwidth, why it matters in remote mountainous regions;
Baby, Can You Drive My Car?: 21st century transportation solutions for residents of rural, mountainous regions;
A Fine Balance: effective tourism strategies and approaches in remote mountain regions;
Dramatic Change: theatre as a change agent in rural residents’ lives and the communities they live in;
Food for Thought: food security & haute cuisine meet in the mountains.
Some of these will be complemented by extended events, such as a celebration of mountain writing & writers, an international animation festival, a Shakespeare on the Lake fest, a Kootenay food & beverage celebration, when appropriate, in collaboration with existing events & organizations.
We now need to create a comprehensive three-five-year strategic business plan for the project, one that includes a detailed SWOT analysis, timelines, and accompanying budget.
Once this is done we will be in a position to both engage the public in meaningful discussion regarding the proposed project’s concrete implications, near- and mid-term, and of course make informed decisions on a go-forward basis.
The creation of the Kootenay Centre for Applied Creativity, and with it the Kootenay Creative Corridor, offers the opportunity to reinvigorate the economies of Kaslo and the entire Kootenay Lake Valley, from Meadow Creek to Nelson. This is a project that makes sense on multiple levels. It builds on our region’s natural advantages, takes into account our strategic weaknesses, and leverages the capabilities and strengths of existing individuals, organizations and infrastructure.
It will provide a boost to regional tourism while also serving as an attractant for potential newcomers, intrigued by our combination of spectacular physical setting, and world-class creativity and innovation. It will create direct and indirect employment, and establish Kaslo, Nelson, and the Kootenay Creative Corridor that connects them as a world-leading region for innovative approaches to the challenges and opportunities that face residents of remote alpine regions, across Western Canada and around the world.
The Centre will have both the mandate and capacity to work with and support cultural and business organizations in the region and Basin, and will look for ways to effectively collaborate with Selkirk College, College of the Rockies, the Rural Development Institute, and Basin school districts.
The project makes practical sense. It is visionary, concrete, and strongly supports the desire of Columbia Basin Trust and other stakeholders to establish substantial new initiatives ultimately capable of self-sufficiency that will generate sustainable, long-term enhanced well-being for Basin residents.