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Volume 35, Number 2 (2014)

PuShing Performance Brands in Vancouver

May 31, 2014


What happens when a performing arts institution’s and a producing partner’s mutual desire to attract audiences to intelligent work that speaks to the diverse urban community each claims to represent comes up against a competing corporate brand? I explore this question by investigating the evolving relationship between Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and SFU Woodward’s, home to Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts and a lightning rod for public debate following a controversial corporate rebranding in the fall of 2010. That rebranding, I argue, also exposes some of the materialist faultlines (cultural, economic, urban) subtending both PuSh’s program- ming at SFU Woodward’s and the latter’s placed-based identity within Vancouver’s economically depressed and socially marginal Downtown Eastside. The paper is divided into three sections. First, I provide some contextual background on PuSh and SFU Woodward’s, and on the development of their respective performance brands. Next, I draw on interviews with PuSh Artistic and Executive Director Norman Armour and Woodward’s Director of Cultural Programming Michael Boucher to assess the benefits and challenges that have so far accrued as a result of their partnership. Finally, I conclude with readings of three productions staged by PuSh at Woodward’s, arguing that their content helps to fore- ground competing ideologies of urban sustainability versus gentrification, and the role of non-profits (cultural and educational) in the rebranding of inner-city neighbourhoods.