The Parade of Lost Souls enters the dark forest


“The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.” - Joseph Campbell

The beloved Parade of Lost Souls has been cut from October's community agenda this year, yet another casualty of the sweeping arts and culture cuts implemented by the BC Liberals.

The parade, which is one of the main events of the Public Dreams Society, has included as many as 30,000 participants and performers gathered around Grandview Park on Commercial Drive for this modern community ritual honouring the dead. The event has offered a mystical parade route adorned with a myriad of strange happenings: mechanical spiders, fire-breathing demons, doubt-sweeping spirits, stilt-walkers, contortionists, fluorescent fairies and an endless shambling procession of undead musicians to guide the hordes through the neighbourhood otherworld.

It's an archetypal collaboration, but one that depends on volunteers, community donations and grants to survive.

“We are wrestling with the scale of it,” says Pamela McKeown, Artistic Managing Director of Public Dreams. “We are trying to rethink the footprint of the event... it has grown from 200 to 35,000.” Pamela cites the 2009 arts cuts as being the main obstacle this year as it has not allowed them to access the much needed gaming grants (primarily bingo) that would normally fund the event. She cites another problem as the image of the event – “half art party, half party on the Drive.”

“We try and move people through a creation of art,” says Pamela, who makes careful mention of the collaborative ritual of community participation that fuels the parade. As such, Public Dreams requires a major volunteer outreach along with donations from those who attend. The donations have, so far, not been enough. “Of 35,000 [people who attended last year], less than $3,000 in donations [was obtained].” She mentions that they are forced to look at sponsorship options because there is “no responsibility from the public.” “It's counter-intuitive for people to make donations when they're experiencing magic,” she adds.

The general support from the city for this event is also lacking. Pamela mentions that the roadblocks have become “more difficult and expensive” as the years go by. For example, the city now requires engineered-stamped permits for the first time in the parade's 17-year history. Moreover, city police must be paid well to safeguard the event, at a cost of “$300 per half hour for overages.”

Theresea Beers, spokesperson for Vancouver City Council, laments the loss of the event, but points out that the gaming grants are the responsibility of the provincial government: “We do fund Public Dreams events and will continue to do so... supporting grant programs...[is] an important part of our cultural business.”

But this cultural business is in decline. According to the Phase I Public Art Programs and Revisions Plan for 2008, Arts funding hovers around $3 million, with 80% of it allocated to projects and installations. Still, only $30,000 is recommended for capacity building workshops and training, while $188,700 is recommended for the creation of two public Art Managers. Since 2006, the number of projects addressed in council reports has decreased by 1/3, and furthermore, the highest profile projects have been ones with major corporate sponsorships, like the Heart of The City Festival. Of note is also the initiative to upgrade the neon signs near Strathcona, or the move to clean up graffiti in the downtown Eastside. Still, grant money is available, and applications deadlines are November 2.

“Honestly, this is par for the course in this culture,” says Russell Shumsky, West-African drumming instructor and leader of the band Linoleum Blownapart, who commonly perform at the Parade of Lost Souls. “Artists are seen as hobbyists who refused to grow up.”

Speaking of his experience studying music and participating in festivals and celebrations in Guinea, he is resigned over Vancouver's priorities. “Ancient culture is defined by its art... in West Africa, there's a kind of a web... an energetic, emotional connection between people. They think and act from a communal place... We've lost touch with it in our highly educated and cerebral culture... Public Dreams tries to replicate that.”

Still, despite the grant cuts that have so heavily impacted Public Dreams, the show may still go on. Ross Barrett, tenor sax player and lifetime member of the Carnival band (a much-loved troupe who participate in the parade) says that rumours have surfaced about one or several grass-roots gatherings that may happen anyway in the few days leading up to Halloween. “There's a movement to mount the show without administration... we'll likely play it.”

The name? “It might be the Parade of Lost Grants,” chuckles Barrett.

//Kevin Murray

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