Credit: Hubert Kang

As the new director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, Amir Ali Alibhai, has a full plate

Street youth carving a canoe of old-growth cedar in the heart of Yaletown; an opera singer taking centre stage before a Canucks game. These are a couple of examples that Amir Ali Alibhai points to of how art, community and culture can intersect to form the beating heart of an urban society.

The new executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, representing more than 350 local artists and arts organizations, understands better than anyone that without culture, a city is merely an empty concrete shell. His experience ranges from overseeing community engagement to his new role advocating on behalf of professional artists.

It was while he was arts programmer at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre that Alibhai was involved in a 10-year program that saw city youth, artists, and First Nations members interact in weekend retreats hosted by the Squamish First Nation.

Participants ranged from environmental activists to forestry executives and government representatives, and the effect was so powerful that Alibhai describes it as a potential blueprint for future collaboration: “With that kind of diversity of thinking from different sectors, we can find solutions to some of these big huge challenges that we’ll be facing in the coming few years – economic, environmental challenges.”

While he sees community participation as playing an important role in the arts, Alibhai is equally concerned with the vitality of the professional arts community.

“At the other end of the spectrum you have a lot of very talented organizations and professional artists in Vancouver that can make work that is powerful enough to change attitudes,” he explains.

Chief among his priorities in his new role at the Alliance is working with the city, nonprofits and the community to build a healthy infrastructure for the arts in Vancouver. In particular, he hopes to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about the shortage of creation and performance spaces for artists.