A PuSh for ‘Cityness’ as Vancouver Turns 125

Vancouver is the best place on earth, and not just because of the mountains. PuSh Festival executive director Norman Armour hi-5s the city's arts community.

Credit: Flickr / Jeremy Lim

Above: PuSh Festival executive director Norman Armour speaks at CreativeMix Vancouver in November 2010.


The executive director of the PuSh Festival is an Ontario-born globetrotter who thinks Vancouver is the best place on earth—thanks to a thriving arts community


Of all the places Norman Armour has travelled, Vancouver always comes out on top. That’s high praise from the Ontario-born director and actor who frequently travels to London, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai, Brussels and other cities for his work as executive director of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, which returns to Vancouver January 18–February 6, 2011.


PuSh International Performing Arts Festival



January 18–February 6, 2011


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“Vancouver is the finest city I’ve ever encountered in terms of an arts community that is open, generous, curious, respectful of hard work, ingenuity, and a desire to share expertise, experience, successes and failures,” he says, sitting at a boardroom table at the PuSh Festival headquarters near Broadway and Cambie.


“We have a really strong, resilient community of individuals.”


Influential Vancouver artists Ken Lum, Stan Douglas, Crystal Pite and Katrina Dunn: Artists by trade, Vancouverites by choice

Part of the uniqueness of Vancouver’s cultural community, Armour says, is that its artists, himself included, consciously choose to live here.


Norman Armour quote

After graduating from Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts in 1986, Armour worked in cities across Canada as an actor and teacher, and held creative residencies and teaching assignments in several American cities. Despite numerous opportunities to settle in other places, Armour found himself coming back to Vancouver, again and again.


So did his friends. Influential Vancouver artists Ken Lum, Stan Douglas, Crystal Pite and Katrina Dunn all made choices to stay in Vancouver.


Lum’s East Vancouver cross stands tall at the corner of Clark and 1st Avenue; Stan Douglas’ photo reenactment of the Gastown Riot occupies the large entry wall in the Woodward’s atrium; Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot dance company has temporarily relocated to Germany, promising a Vancouver return; and Katrina Dunn is the director of Touchstone Theatre and co-founder of the PuSh Festival.


2011 PuSh Festival coincides with Vancouver’s 125th birthday

In 1990, Armour co-founded local theatre company Rumble Productions with Chris Gerrard-Pinker, and in 2003, he and Katrina Dunn co-founded PuSh, a performing arts festival now in its sixth year.


The 2011 fest coincides with Vancouver’s 125th anniversary, and PuSh marks the official beginning of the birthday celebrations. Vancouver’s 125th birthday will mark an important year to reflect on what Vancouver means to those who live here—a welcome relief from the international focus of the Olympics.


Importantly, the anniversary and festival will define the direction of the city and the festival for the next five years, Armour adds.


Breaking down silos is the key to Vancouver’s future

Armour and his team have made it their business to bring in a diverse array of productions from around the world and across artistic disciplines. He says breaking down silos will be key to the future of Vancouver and its arts community.


“We have a real amazing set of entrepreneurial spirit in this town, whether it’s people in IT, or whether it’s restaurateurs, people like Sean Heather and the people behind Nuba, and the people behind the Waldorf Hotel renovation,” he says.


“I think the city is really being shaped by a lot of business activity that’s happening on a real grassroots level.”


Facilitating connection between communities—mainstream, avant-garde, arts, business, entrepreneurial—will be essential to all of their survival, Armour says. When the local arts community banded together last year against provincial government cuts to gaming grants, people across multiple sectors banded together.


“They got out of their silos. They saw themselves as being very inter-related with other sectors: with social services, with education, health,” he says.


He’s hopeful that the collaborative spirit that characterized the recession will continue into the good times.


“Isolation is always, I think, the biggest threat in times of economic challenge—on an individual, on an organizational, on a community level,” he says. “Isolation is the thing you have to fight against, and do everything that’s positive on the other side that leads you away from isolation and brings you together with people to look at common problems and common solutions.”


‘Cityness’ the theme at 2011 PuSh Festival

This year’s theme for the PuSh Festival is “cityness.” Find it in one of the festival’s many productions, which take place in streets, theatres and found spaces across the city.


Pod Plays by Neworld Theatre and PTC Theatre Company

(Image: PuSh Festival)

2011 PuSh Festival – Cityness pick #1: PodPlays—The Quartet

Audience members take a walking tour of the city’s best-kept secrets in PodPlays—The Quartet, a site-specific radio play by Vancouver’s Neworld Theatre and PTC Theatre Company. Jan. 21-Feb. 6: production begins in the Woodward’s atrium and ends at a secret location. 



100 per cent Vancouver performance

(Image: PuSh Festival)

2011 PuSh Festival – Cityness pick #2: 100% Vancouver

100 Vancouver residents will take centre stage in 100% Vancouver, an interactive performance that tells Vancouver’s story through the eyes of its current citizens. Participants, all non-actors, will sort themselves according to political leanings and opinions as questions are posed to the group. Jan. 21–22, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre.



City of Dreams

(Image: PuSh Festival)

2011 PuSh Festival – Cityness pick #3: City of Dreams

A poetic map of Vancouver will be assembled using found objects during City of Dreams, a collaboration between London theatre artist Peter Reder, sound designer Tom Wallace, Urban Crawl, and local artists. The performance explores connections between memory, identity, and place. Jan. 25-29, Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre.