Chemainus is the talk of the international town as delegates prepare for the eighth Global Mural Conference.
The conference, which spans four days in September, will educate small towns about how to use the arts, culture and tourism for economic development. Organizers say arts and culture can be a powerful tool to revitalize a small community.
“Chemainus was one of the first ones to set this up about 20 years ago, and it has been very successful,” said Chemainus Festival of Murals Society president Tom Andrews. “We’ve added the second theme, which is economic development through arts, culture and tourism, because we felt that would attract more interested delegates in the economic aspect of murals and how it can improve their municipality.”
However, the conference is not just about murals. Rather, it is about branding not being a copycat.
“The attendees can pick something that is unique for their town … they have to look at their town, see what is the unique characteristics and how they can develop the arts, culture and tourism around that,” explained Andrews. “Bill Baker, one of the key speakers, is a consultant on how towns can brand themselves so they can become unique and a destination for people to visit or live or have a business.”
Chemainus will be used as an example at the conference, but town officials hope to gain something out of this event as well.
“As participants in this conference, we expect to learn things from other participants that will help us with Chemainus … and we expect to learn and offer advice,” said North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure. “You always learn something when you talk to people.”
Murals helped rejuvenate Chemainus, but Lefebure recognizes that tourism is not the golden solution to all economic problems.
“One of the things I will talk about (at the conference) is that it didn’t solve all our problems. We have empty storefronts, and we learned that you can’t live on tourism alone,” he said. “Tourism isn’t the be all and the end all. I believe it is just one aspect of a strong community, and we would be crazy to ignore that. We do have things in our communities that will attract people and there will be good times and not-so-good times, but it is just one part of what we do to keep our towns going.”
Lou Roelofsen, co-chair of the conference, says that this event will have an immediate and long-term impact on the local economy.
“There is a lot of tours for the delegates so they can take different tours of the area if they want to … will these people spend money? Yes,” said Roelofsen. “They are staying in bed and breakfasts, they are staying in hotels, they are wining and dining … there is money being spent, and that’s your economic impact. It should be good exposure for the Cowichan Valley.”
But the number of delegates is less than what organizers had hoped for. There are roughly 80-90 people registered.
“It was my picture that you would be able to attract 180 people, but we are less then that; we are about half,” said Roelofsen. “I’m a little disappointed, but there are still numbers coming in.”
The Global Mural Conference is hosted and organized by the Global Mural Conference Association and the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society. The event will take place Sept. 10- 13 in Chemainus. Anyone interested in attending can register online.