L.I.P. Service showcased a selection of artworks from the collections of the City of Vancouver and the Contemporary Art Gallery, and commemorated 30 years of exhibition history at the Gallery. Far from acting as a representative survey of the over 3000 collected works, the show aims to showcase a small cross section of art produced during the 1970’s and early 80’s in Vancouver, and to shed light on an ambitious and far reaching civic project to employ visual artists. This adventurous idea would give rise to the Contemporary Art Gallery, an institution whose initial mandate was to house the collection, but which grew into something much bigger.
The Trudeau government’s Local Initiatives Program (L.I.P.) was a short lived, large scale job assistance program that sought to support social, cultural and humanitarian activities while channeling youthful energies toward productive ends. The program lasted from 1971 until 1978, and provided money to municipalities across Canada with the intention of fostering small scale, grassroots employment schemes. Among the thousands of applications for projects was one initiated by the City of Vancouver’s Social Planning Department. Under the leadership of civic planner Jonathan Baker, the City was granted L.I.P. funds to employ artists to make art.
The idea was straightforward. After a call for proposals, artists would send examples of their work to City Hall. A standing committee—among them artist Jack Shadbolt, Vancouver Art Gallery Director Tony Emery and architect Arthur Erickson—would meet and adjudicate applications. Successful applicants would be awarded a weekly stipend of $100. In exchange, artists would return an equivalent amount of artwork to the city. As testament to the good will the program generated, a quickly proliferating number of artworks began to accumulate on the walls of City Hall. In the process, the beginning of the City of Vancouver’s collection was born, and a venue to house and maintain the art quickly became a necessity. In the late fall of 1972 The Greater Vancouver Artists Gallery opened its doors at 766 Homer Street. Later to be renamed the Contemporary Art Gallery, The Artists Gallery offered an informal atmosphere where civic employees could pick up and drop off works, artists could meet for coffee and where the general public could take a look. In February of 1973 the gallery moved, mounting its first exhibitions at 555 Hamilton Street, a location it remained at for almost 30 years.
The collection as a whole represents a rich view into the artistic practices of west coast artists in the 1970’s and early 80’s. It is also testament to a liberal and enlightened civic policy, which for a time found a way to bring artists and other citizens together in an active and supportive dialogue. Whether this could form a template for future civic policy is a question that may be worth debating again.